The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Category: Parenting (page 1 of 3)

Protecting teen drivers with ADHD

“My teen son has ADHD, and I know this makes him more likely to die in a car accident.”

This was how this week’s guest blogger, Mark Connor, opened his introductory email to me. It hit home. 16 years ago this month, I took my driver’s license test. I’ve officially been driving for half my life, and I’m still alive. Several of my high school classmates weren’t so lucky.

My dad is a professional driver, and he made sure I took driving seriously. He — and my mom, aunt, and uncle, who teamed up to give me lots of driving practice — also taught me on a stick shift, which helped keep me in the parking lot for long enough to get comfortable behind the wheel before I hit the road.

Kids like me are very fortunate. So, I’m sure, is Mark’s son. Mark created a website called Drive Safely to help spread the word about vehicle safety. Here, he shares a few pieces of wisdom from his journey parenting a teen driver with ADHD.

Driving is already the most dangerous thing teenagers do, with thousands of teens dying in automobile accidents every year. The risk is even greater for teen drivers with ADHD. According to one study, young drivers with ADHD received significantly more moving and non-moving violations than drivers without ADHD.

However, just because the risk is greater doesn’t mean that teens with ADHD can’t become safe, successful drivers. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD and teen drivers.

Facts to Know

In 2015, over 2,000 teens aged 16 to 19 died in motor vehicle accidents, and more than 200,000 were injured. While this is the lowest number of teen driving deaths ever recorded in one year, it’s nevertheless a devastating statistic.

Evidence shows that new drivers with an attention deficit are prone to riskier behavior behind the wheel. Teen drivers with ADHD are:

  • Four times more likely to speed.
  • Five times more likely to receive a parking ticket.
  • Three times more likely to lose their license within the first five to eight years of driving.
  • Two to three times more likely to be in a car accident.

In addition to these worrying numbers, teens with ADHD more frequently pass other vehicles improperly, tailgate, fail to obey traffic signs and signals, and even drive while under the influence of alcohol.

What You Can Do

Parents of children with ADHD won’t be surprised by the increased risk for their teen drivers. They’re familiar with the minds that struggle to stay on task and the impulsive behavior. What they may be unsure of, however, is how to help their teen succeed behind the wheel.

Involved parenting is instrumental in teaching attention-deficit teens safe driving habits. Parents should first ensure their child is taking any medication prescribed by their doctor. Step two? Consider whether a teen is prepared to start driving at all. Teens with ADHD who are still learning to manage their behavior may be best served by a delayed start to driving. While no teen wants to be late getting their driver’s license, staying safe is the most important thing.

Parents should spend plenty of time practicing driving before taking their teen to the license bureau. Learning under parental supervision will empower a teen to make the best possible choices behind the wheel, and parents will be able to identify and address the specific challenges faced by their teen. On top of covering good driving habits, discuss common roadside concerns like jumping a battery and staying safe in a roadside emergency.

Extra practice isn’t the only adjustment to make for teens with ADHD. Promote good behavior behind the wheel by instituting the following rules:

  • No cell phone usage while driving.
  • No more than one passenger at a time.
  • No passengers during after-school hours or on weekend evenings, the most dangerous times for teen drivers.
  • No adjusting music while driving. Consider equipping vehicles with voice-activated technology to remove the temptation.

A written safe driving contract can create accountability between teen drivers and their parents. A safe driving contract should include mutually agreed upon rules to observe behind the wheel, and appropriate consequences if those rules are broken. That may mean restricting driving privileges if a teen is caught driving with too many passengers, or making teens pay fines incurred from driving infractions. No matter the rules you settle on, promote compliance by consistently applying consequences.

Just because a teen has ADHD doesn’t mean he or she can’t become a safe driver. Give teens the tools to drive responsibly by addressing the unique challenges of ADHD head-on.

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Firm and kind: A challenge for ADHD families.

I think I speak for most ADHD-affected households when I say, sometimes we don’t bring out the best in each other. In his book Healing ADD From the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel Amen makes a list of games people with ADHD love to play. One of them is, “I bet I can get you to hit me or yell at me.” Sound familiar?

Most of the time, this isn’t even conscious. People with poorly managed ADHD — or those whose medication has worn off for the day — have trouble regulating emotional responses. They also use conflict to balance out their brain chemistry. Yelling, fighting, or needling someone until they explode provides a boost of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in short supply for ADHD’ers.

Without proper treatment and education, these become lifelong behavior patterns.

firm-and-kind-and-adhd

My goal when responding to these behaviors — and I falter often — is to be both firm and kind. Too many people still believe stricter parenting (like we had in the “good old days”) is the answer for kids with ADHD. When we see unacceptable behavior, we read a lack of visible, tangible punishment as permissive parenting. To some, firm and kind feel mutually exclusive.

This attitude isn’t limited to children: I hear the same about spouses and other adult family members. We don’t like to see someone “get away” with bad behavior.

I’m firm, I’m kind, but I don’t consider myself permissive with my family. I’m certainly not a doormat. In fact, people often tell me I’m the only person so-and-so will listen to, or they ask why a certain family member behaves better around me. It goes to show: Firm and kind can be strong, too.

Respect for myself

I first discovered “firm and kind” in parenting expert Vicki Hoefle’s lovely books and this post on her blog. Her words have changed my life. I feel like I have permission to look out for myself while I care for my family. Returning to Dr. Amen’s game of “I bet I can get you to hit me or yell at me,” I wonder how much respect I can have for myself when I’m falling right into that trap. In parenting, as in all social interactions, if someone can goad me into a fight, they can control me. If my child can make me late every time we leave the house, he’s in control. An out-of-control person doesn’t command respect from herself, let alone others.

When I draw a boundary, I show everyone I mean it. It doesn’t matter whether the boundary is big or small. I’m firm about reducing the number of days our family spends traveling around Christmas. I’m also firm about leaving for school at 8:45 a.m., regardless of who’s still in bare feet.

Giving kindness and respect to my family

At the same time, I try to practice kindness without letting others step all over my boundaries. I don’t say, “fine, you spent so long playing around, see how you like freezing your toes on the way to the car!” I say, “okay, time to leave. I’ll bring your shoes to the car so you can put them on while we drive.”

Simple. Matter of fact. Kind.

Hoefle claims that all children modify behavior based on what earns a reaction. We can deduce that children with ADHD do this to the extreme. When we engage in power struggles, allow ourselves to be goaded into flying off the handle, or allow our child’s behavior to control a situation, we set ourselves — and our children — up for more of the same tomorrow. This feels more unkind than letting him get cold toes on the way to the car.

Modeling how I want to be treated

After reading Hoefle’s books, my ears became attuned to how parents all around me spoke to their children. Try this next time you’re in a public place: Imagine the children as adults. What would you think if you heard someone speaking to an adult that way?

“Firm but kind” reconciles my two minds when it comes to parenting. We can be firm. We can refuse to engage in a power struggle. We can also be kind without letting kids ‘get away’ with bad behavior.

In other words, we can be respectful without being permissive. We can be kind without becoming a doormat. I apply these principles to everyone in my family, from ages 3-85. I’ve discovered that the harder it is to get a rise out of me, the more respect and accommodation I get from others. Especially those with ADHD.

Have you struggled to maintain peace and respect in your family? What keeps you grounded?

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Family life with ADHD: Stash those labels.

Labels — we all use them sometimes, even though most of us know we shouldn’t. Parenting has taught me to use labels intentionally and sparingly. My favorite books caution against labels, both in the positive (“you’re such a good girl”) and the negative (“you’re a troublemaker”).

Labels tell us how we fit in.

The labels we give our children become the language they use to define themselves. Parenting expert Vicki Hoefle writes in Duct Tape Parenting, “your child is answering one question over and over again: ‘In my family I am the child who…'”

ADHD labelsFor those of us with ADHD, the end of that sentence was (or is) often negative. I can trace most of my childhood labels back to my undiagnosed ADHD: oversensitive. Inconsiderate. Selfish. Vain. Ingrate. Argumentative. Rude. Lazy.

Even positive labels, like “smart,” came with baggage. For a girl with ADHD, “smart” often means “you’re too smart for this.” This being missed homework, a bad grade, or a lower-level class. “Smart” also implies potential. It sets expectations for your life and career path.

As a kid, I sometimes took on these labels — “it’s true, only a selfish person would’ve done that” — and sometimes fought against them. I wanted to view myself as a caring, sensitive, quiet person. I never wanted to make people angry. And yet, I felt like the outside world saw me as selfish, aloof, and melodramatic. I didn’t like that person. I barely even recognized her. I longed to show everyone the “real me.”

ADHD inspires labels that belie our true intentions.

As a young, newly married adult, I still suffered with untreated ADHD. I felt desperate — and yet unable — to disprove the labels still haunting my life. In a long-ago conversation argument about household responsibilities, my husband uttered the phrase, “lazy is as lazy does.” I wrote it down, along with many other labels, in an attempt to sort through my feelings. Deep inside, I knew who I was, but I couldn’t show it.

I eventually sought help for my ADHD. (Side note: My husband, who was pre-diagnosis himself, would never say something like that today.)

And, just like that, we can evolve. It’s never too late to shed damaging labels and redefine ourselves. Change begins with a commitment to build each other up rather than tear each other down.

ADHD labels pull quote

Resisting labels while appreciating the little stuff.

These days, we shy away from labels in our home. In their parenting classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out the dangers of even the best-sounding labels: “you can take away ‘good boy’ by calling him ‘bad boy’ the next day.” As a child — and later an adult — with ADHD, I learned to eye each personal victory with suspicion, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s why I refuse to trade my negative labels for positive ones. I get no pleasure from hearing “you’re a hard worker,” “you’re so organized,” or “I can’t imagine you losing your temper.” On the bad days, positive labels only serve to hone my sense of loss and failure.

Instead, our family works day to day, praising and appreciating each other for the specific — the nitty-gritty. Somewhere around age two, our son went through a hitting phase. When he got angry and didn’t hit, I’d tell him, “you were so angry, I know you wanted to hit me, but you didn’t. You went upstairs to calm down instead.” When my husband — often at work very late — is home in the evening, I tell him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

This is especially critical for areas where we struggle. Specific praise and appreciation lets people know we see them. We see them doing their best, and we notice their small victories. When this is what defines us, rather than “unreliable,” “late,” or “hot-headed,” we access our power to do better.

What labels do you find yourself using in your family? What labels did your parents use with you? How do labels affect the way you view yourself and those around you?

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Unfortunately, every parenting win springs from impulse control.

Parents with AdultADHDAn interaction I had with my three-year-old a couple months ago blew me away. I should’ve been delighted. Instead, I felt deeply sad. And I knew I couldn’t say a thing.

We’d talked about his books before. He had too many to fit on his shelves. One day, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want to give Little Critter Snowball Soup away.”

I was flabbergasted. This was one of his favorite stories, one we’d read over and over and over again. He hadn’t asked for it lately, but I was still shocked he’d get rid of it. We talked more. He understood what he was saying: he didn’t enjoy the book anymore and wanted someone else to love it as much as he’d loved it. It needed to become someone else’s favorite.

Then he started pulling more books from the shelf, saying “I only wanted to read this one five times,” and “I don’t enjoy this one anymore.”

Our children mirror us.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my son did only what I taught him to do. I’m an aspiring minimalist, and I believe minimalism has special benefits for people with ADHD. I also believe self-efficacy is the most important gift I can give my child.

My son is generous, thoughtful, and capable of making his own choices. He’s learning to part with material things — even old favorites — that he no longer enjoys.

He needs a mom with impulse control. A mom who knows how to keep her mouth shut and let him do his thing. I haven’t always been that person, but I’m working at it every day.

We don’t start out choosing our reactions.

My core values as a parent, homemaker, and person demand a pretty high level of impulse control. This is something I totally lacked at the beginning of my ADHD journey. Before I started learning about and medicating my ADHD, I didn’t choose my reactions to people and events in life. I didn’t know a choice existed. I thought what happened inside also happened outside — for everyone.

During my first week on stimulant medication, I described in my journal this gap that had opened up between stimulus and response. I felt like I’d discovered a time warp. I gained a few critical seconds (maybe even milliseconds) to notice what I was feeling and attempt to control how I expressed it.

Kids need parents who stay out of the way

Getting out of the way: tough for any parent, tougher for ADHD parents.

Plenty of parenting books warn against emotional reactions when we’re angry. What about when we’re bittersweet, or when we doubt our child’s choices? It broke my heart to part with some of those books. I desperately wanted to intervene, even though intervening would question his judgement (you’re getting rid of that one?) and undermine his generosity (what if I just hold onto these on my bookshelf?).

I didn’t intervene. He wanted to wish the books well on their journey to someone else. I was as proud of myself as I was of him. My ability to keep my mouth shut empowered him to make his own choice and stand behind it. He felt capable of solving a problem on his own, and I got out of his way. I trusted him. He gained confidence in himself.

This would be hard for anyone, but for someone with a clinically diagnosable deficiency in shutting up? Let’s just say, I never thought I’d see the day. I gave myself time to mourn the books, but after my son was asleep. Burdening him with my complicated emotions — at least in this context — wouldn’t benefit him at all.

Be quiet and leave space for others.

Sometimes, keeping quiet and leaving space for others in our relationships is the most supportive, loving thing we can do.

For adults — and especially parents — with ADHD, it’s also the hardest thing. Our emotions overwhelm us, our reptile brains take over, and we often stop to think long after we’ve already spoken.

But the rewards make it worth it to keep trying, and to take good care of myself and my brain. Because I owe it to my kid, who’s already a better person than I am.

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Of course behavior therapy helps kids with ADHD…for now.

When I see ADHD trending on social media, I perk up my ears. Today, it’s the release of new study results supporting behavior therapy as a first-line treatment for children with ADHD.

NY Times behavior therapy ADHD thumbnail

This raises important questions. It also fans the flames of controversy among those opposed to medicating ADHD in children.

I see this study as an incomplete answer to a complex question: what’s the best course of treatment for childhood ADHD?

Interpreting results: why start with behavior therapy?

Starting with behavior-based interventions may emphasize the importance of teaching coping mechanisms. I’ve long said that neither medication nor behavior therapy can do it alone. Medication balances our brain chemistry, making coping mechanisms easier — or possible — to implement.

Starting meds with no therapy or parent training may set the wrong expectation: that meds can do all the work. Starting with behavior therapy, then adding medication, allows families to compare and contrast the difference.

Taking an example from my personal life, I talk a lot about David Allen’s Getting Things DoneI swear by it. Did you know I’ve only been able to maintain it while taking medication? Without it, I can’t keep up.

However, medication in no way alleviates my need for such a rigid system.

We should teach children this symbiosis from the beginning. Offering medication alone is like offering eyeglasses to a near-sighted child and expecting those glasses to teach him to read.

Why I’m skeptical about behavior therapy’s long-term benefits

I’m not jumping on the behavior modification bandwagon just yet. I think we need a longitudinal study to evaluate the effects well into adulthood, when we’re expected to create our own structure and motivation.

Behavior modification therapies, as explained in Stephen P. Hinshaw and Katherine Ellison’s book ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know, require “clear expectations and explicit, frequent rewards, as well as occasional, nonemotional discipline.” Think sticker charts to help kids earn a reward for improving target behaviors.

My own parents promised me a TV in my bedroom if I could produce a few second-grade report cards with no failing grades in the ‘behavior’ column. My burning desire for that television supported the herculean effort required to stay out of trouble. I got the TV.

Looking at this one academic year, anyone could conclude that behavior-based interventions improved my most problematic symptoms. However, as Hinshaw and Ellison point out in their book, “the difficulty for children is to maintain their progress once they’re out of the tightly managed environment.”

My third-grade reports reflect missed homework, inconsistent effort, and frequent run-ins with other students.

Should we expect parents to maintain a highly structured environment indefinitely? What happens when children grow too old for sticker charts? What happens when parents aren’t there to light a fire under a kid’s butt?

I’ll tell you what happened to me: my life spiraled out of control. My desk at work was covered 8-12 inches deep all around with papers, and I frequently lost important documents. I fought with my husband all the time. I suffered wild mood swings. Bills went unpaid. It took so long for me to take checks to the bank, they often expired before I could deposit them. My house was a mess. The list goes on.

Does behavior therapy prepare kids with ADHD for the future?

I’m not surprised to see a study confirming the effectiveness of behavior therapies — that is, rigid systems of externalized rewards and consequences — in the short term. We’re talking months, or even a few years.

I worry that we’re failing to teach kids true independence and long-term coping mechanisms. As Vicki Hoefle explains so effectively in her lovely book Duct Tape Parenting, parents should measure success not by how kids behave right now, but whether they’re ready to fledge at age 18. Childhood gives kids an opportunity to learn crucial skills in a safe, supportive environment.

Creating a system of made-up consequences robs them — and us — of that opportunity. Sure, I was able to control my outbursts to earn that TV. What did I learn about myself during that time? What tools did I put in my mental toolbox, to be carried into adulthood?

Yes, this study addresses an important issue. I hope it reinforces the symbiotic relationship between medication and other interventions. I hope fewer parents, teachers, and doctors see medication as a way to make ADHD an open-and-shut case.

Parents need to ask: what’s our goal here? Do we want the best of both worlds? To refuse medication for our kids while putting a stop to failing grades and uncomfortable parent-teacher conferences?

Or do we want to deepen our relationship with our kids while teaching them how to succeed as adults?

For that, we need to examine the effectiveness of behavior therapy once the subjects reach age 25, 30, and 35.

What do you think we’d find? I’m curious about others’ reactions. Did you read about this study? Have you had any first-hand experience with behavior modification? Please chime in with a comment below!

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Book Review: The Insider’s Guide to ADHD

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Insider’s Guide to ADHD presents a unique perspective on parenting young ADHD’ers. Through a  survey of 95 ADHD adults, author Penny Williams shares dos and don’ts from those who should know best.

penny williams book review

I expected Insider’s Guide to read like a collective memoir, but it’s more informed by survey responses than driven by them. You won’t find case studies or lengthy anecdotes. Direct quotes from the survey are generally short.

Williams has built a successful brand by writing from her perspective: a dedicated mom without ADHD, learning obsessively through research and real-life experience. She retains that voice in Insider’s Guide, drawing heavily on her own experiences along with survey responses.

Insider’s Guide teaches solid parenting strategies and steers readers away from the old-school parenting style many of us grew up with.

Williams offers these critical messages for parents of kids with ADHD:

  • Even lovely, supportive parents can unwittingly leave their kids feeling doomed to failure.
  • All kids need to learn self-sufficiency, and helicopter parenting sabotages future success.
  • Shame and punishment aren’t effective for creating long-term positive change.
  • Figuring out the right medication and dosage can be a life-changer.

Depending your current parenting and communication skills, Insider’s Guide may or may not help you. It’s a crash course, and Williams covers many of the same points as previous books I’ve reviewed — How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Duct Tape Parenting — but in slightly less depth.

These books pack more concrete examples, high-impact testimonials, and quotes from parenting experts, but Insider’s Guide makes an excellent sell to the skeptical or uninitiated. Williams offers testimony from real people who’ve lived through a childhood with ADHD. There’s overwhelming consensus on what works.

I especially appreciated this quote from a mom with ADHD: “I never liked the thought of medication for my child, but it made such a difference in my own life, I could not hold that back from maybe giving my child a chance to feel like days can be easier.” Parents are faced with overwhelming, complex choices. This illustrates beautifully what ADHD adults bring to the table.

One cautionary note: Williams represents survey results with visual aids throughout the book, but don’t extrapolate these to all adults with ADHD. The survey’s sample size is relatively small, at 95, and overwhelmingly female (78.1%). While it’s great to see women with ADHD represented, this doesn’t reflect the overall demographics of ADHD adults.

That’s not to discredit the insights Insider’s Guide has to offer. It’s just important to consider sample size and methods used when applying survey results to the population at large.

Insider’s Guide starts a necessary conversation. Awareness of ADHD is growing, and those of us who attended elementary school in the 1980s and 1990s — when ADHD and stimulant medications really became household names — now have children of our own. It’s time to explore how our childhood experiences can influence our parenting. I’m glad to see a book on this topic, and I hope it opens the door to bigger and more ambitious projects in the future.

Bottom line: if you’re stuck in a negative parenting rut and haven’t enjoyed books targeting neurotypical kids, Insider’s Guide is a great place to start. If you’ve already read How to Talk and Duct Tape Parenting, expect a repackaging of those ideas through the ADHD lens.

How about you? Have you read Insider’s Guide, or do you have another book to recommend? Please share your thoughts!

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You vs. the world: lets discuss ADHD for at-home parents

“Our family needs a homemaker.”

I love to be needed, but those words stung.

I was trying to convince my husband to keep our twice-monthly cleaning service, but he wouldn’t budge. It was a temporary arrangement for a tough time: during the first nine months of our son’s life, my husband finished a master’s degree and broke his collarbone.

I needed help.

The problem was, once things returned to normal, I viewed this extra help as a small price to pay to get my writing business off the ground. My husband reminded me of our agreement that one of us would be a stay-at-home parent. It didn’t seem fair for me to claim I “didn’t have time” to clean the house.

Maybe it wasn’t, but providing sanity and order to an ADHD household, day in and day out, is exhausting.

Because it’s true: our ADHD family does need a homemaker. We need one adult holding down the fort full-time to keep everything from exploding (or imploding) into chaos.We need someone cleaning, coordinating home repairs, paying bills, opening the mail, and making sure everyone eats — among many, many other things.

But I have ADHD, too, and I have big plans for my life. Specifically, I want to do all the things, and I want to do them yesterday.

In the two years post-cleaning lady, I’ve found a better groove. I’ve forced myself to keep trying. I figured out a way to keep writing while (usually) keeping the house (relatively) clean. R. grew up into a little boy and stopped nursing, which meant I could resume taking my ADHD meds. I’ve mapped out a longer-term plan for my writing that allows me to feel like I’m making daily progress. I’ve learned to accept incremental progress, even if I want instant gratification.

Being the homemaker is still hard. I wouldn’t have it any other way, for more reasons than I can count. My husband has unbeatable job security, and my salary wouldn’t have supported us. I prefer to be in charge. I’m better at structuring my own projects and time.

Our family doesn’t just need a homemaker, we need me. And to be there for our family, I need to be there for myself, too. That means making time for my writing, but also taking care of our home and family. Taking time for myself, but not leaving everyone else to pick up my slack.

It’s a lifelong pursuit, finding balance. I’ll never quite get there. I’ll never perfect the art of slowing down, of accepting imperfection, of resting, of moderating — in any of my roles. All I can do is try.

Lately, I’m trying to be honest with myself about what it means to be a workaholic homemaker with ADHD.

And what does that mean, exactly? If you have ADHD and you’re a stay-at-home parent, I’d love to hear about your experience. How do you make it work? Have you struggled to reconcile your partner’s expectations with your own? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned?

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Is homeschooling right for your family?

Last week, we heard from Meg about homeschooling her oldest child, who has ADHD. Figuring out whether homeschooling is right for your family can be overwhelming. Checking in with Meg as we go, let’s explore a few questions you should ask yourself before taking the plunge.

home schooling

photo credit: Lynde Pratt

Do you have time?

ADHD is highly heritable. If a child has it, there’s a 30-40% chance at least one parent has it, too. We ADHD’ers are notoriously time-blind, making it hard for us to look before we leap.

You need at least one full-time homeschooling parent,” Meg warns. She works part-time managing her own business while her husband works full-time. For now they divide teaching duties to form two halves of a whole.

If you’re already feeling frantic, over-committed, or just too busy most of the time, something will need to give. Force yourself to imagine the day-to-day grind of your new homeschooling life. Do this several times, and with as much detail as possible. Fight your natural tendency to say “oh, I’ll figure it out.” ADHD severely impairs your ability to think through long-term consequences of your actions, and it’s your responsibility to counteract that.

“[Homeschooling] isn’t something you squeeze into your day,” Meg reminds us, “it’s a lifestyle.” Make sure that feels okay with you.

Do you have money?

You don’t have to pay for an expensive curriculum, but newbies may appreciate the structure at first, if only to teach them what does and doesn’t work for their child.

Don’t forget the other costs associated with homeschooling, either. Ideally, you’ll want to take your child on regular field trips, many of which cost money. Group activities, like karate or Boy Scouts, provide vital social outlets for homeschoolers.

And there’s that prickly time question again: will you need to hire help for household chores?  ADHD adults often struggle with household maintenance, and adding to your responsibilities at home may force the issue. Meg’s family discovered they’ll need to pay around $300 per month for cleaning help. “We have two other children and a large, old house/property that requires a ton of maintenance,” she explains. “There’s too much on our plates right now.”

Have you included your child in the decision?

If you haven’t read Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting, I recommend it before proceeding with your homeschooling decision. In business and in parenting, buy-in is critical — and too often overlooked. Your child, no matter his age, needs to feel like an important part of the process. Homeschooling is something you’ll do as a team. If he lacks ownership in this decision, you’ll have a very hard time indeed.

How’s your ADHD management?

Homeschooling requires some minor red tape, but it’s “no big deal,” says Meg, thanks to copious online resources.

Like so many things, poorly managed adult ADHD will make this easier said than done. In Pennsylvania, where Meg’s family lives,  you must keep records for 185 learning days each year (these can include field trip days).  Many families hire a certified teacher to review these records annually. Parents must also notify the school district of their intent to homeschool via an affidavit at the beginning of the year. These steps aren’t difficult, but you’ll need to remember to keep records and complete time-sensitive tasks every year.

Adult ADHD can also cause impatience, irritability, and strained family relations, not to mention poor social skills extending far beyond your front door. Be honest with yourself: will you be able to work with your child, often enduring intense frustration on both sides, while maintaining a healthy relationship? Will you be able to tolerate being together all day? Are you capable of making the necessary social connections with other parents to cultivate friends for your child?

Is school really the problem?

Even if you send your child to traditional school, you’re not off the hook: just ask any parent who’s tried to get everyone out the door in the morning. Then there’s checking in on homework, fielding teacher concerns, attending disciplinary meetings (my parents especially loved those), and helping your child develop coping mechanisms to succeed in a learning environment that seems utterly incompatible with ADHD.

It’s tempting to throw up your hands rather than tackle these challenges. Just remember, homeschooling won’t make the root issues go away, it’ll just give you a different set of puzzles. (I’m reminded of when, as a beginning skier, I got frustrated with the learning curve and decided a snowboard would solve all my problems.)

“I don’t have leisure or rest anymore,” confesses Meg. This is part of her motivation for hiring someone to help around the house. “It’s an unhealthy way to live…I don’t plan to live this way forever, but for now it is what it is. When you believe you’re doing the right thing, you make it work at any personal expense.”

Meg’s steadfast belief that this is the right thing for her son keeps her going when things get tough. If that’s the case for you, too, that’s great. But do some soul searching before pulling your kiddo out of school. Make sure you’re truly acting in your child’s long-term best interest, not out of desperation to offload a set of overwhelming challenges.

Have you considered homeschooling? What would you like to say to parents considering teaching a child at home?

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24-hour free web event for parents on Understood.org

understood.org logoI try to make parenting only one facet of this blog, but as adults with ADHD, many of us also parent children with ADHD. If you’d like some more information, Understood.org is hosting a free, all-day, live web event tomorrow.

As part of Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Dyslexia Awareness Month, Understood.org is raising awareness and empowering parents of the one in five children who struggle with reading, writing, math or attention issues.

I’m not intimately familiar with Understood.org’s content, but I’ve read and shared a few good articles from their site. I encourage you to wander over to see for yourself and, if you like what you read, check out some of tomorrow’s events. The #AskUnderstood hashtag gives you all-day access to the site’s team of experts. The event website has a full schedule of other events, including Facebook Q&A sessions and live video chats.

And, because parents have to stick together and help each other out, please share your experience in the comments here if you do participate. I’d love to hear what you learned!

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What’s it like to homeschool a child with ADHD?

home schooling

Some kids with ADHD are lucky enough to thrive in school. The concrete expectations and structure compensate for their executive functioning weaknesses.

Others struggle mightily just to sit at a desk.

I recently caught up with my lovely friend Meg to talk about homeschool. Meg runs her own business in addition to caring for three children, the oldest of whom is seven-year-old Corban. After a frustrating kindergarten year, Meg and her husband Adam decided to homeschool Corban, who has ADHD.

This interview is the first in a two-part series on homeschooling. Next week, we’ll catch up with Meg again to discuss some more practical details for parents considering homeschooling.

ADHD Homestead: Describe the school environment you left behind.

Meg: We live in a fantastic school district and our son’s teachers were attentive, caring, compassionate and flexible. They adhered to Common Core standards and added to that curriculum to make it more rigorous. However, my son spent most of his time at a desk learning reading and math. His favorite subjects — science and history — aren’t Common Core priorities. He daydreamed, got bored and frustrated, and often stood at his desk the entire day. His teacher was understanding, but unsure how to handle him.

A: Talk to me about your process for choosing homeschooling over traditional school

M: We intended to homeschool all along. We love teachers and admire all their hard work with kids. We don’t necessarily think we can do a better job educating our children. However, we strongly believe the school day is too long and the curriculum/education style in this country is too ‘one size fits all.’ When the teacher alerted us to Corban’s problems focusing in class, we felt it was time to offer him an alternative.

ADHD home school pull quote

A: ADHD can cause frustration, emotional outbursts, overwhelm, disorganization, and time blindness. If you have ADHD yourself, how do your own symptoms present themselves in homeschooling?

M: I’m often in my own little world. I daydream and get bored incredibly easily. There are several things in my life that interest me and hold my attention, but homeschooling isn’t one of them!

I have little to no patience for trying to engage my son when he ‘can’t be engaged,’ and while I understand first-hand his frustration with “boring” subjects, I lack the ability to make them fun for him. I’m horrible at organizing projects for him or trying to come up with teaching strategies. We often butt heads and I wish he could see the value in “just getting it done,” but I can’t teach him that.

A: Social skills can be a major issue for ADHD kids. How are you helping your child learn these skills outside the large-group school setting?

M: Corban has excellent social skills, but he struggles to find kids he really clicks with. He’s surprisingly cooperative and flexible with his friends — allowing them to dictate what games they play, etc. However, he gets stuck on a trend and expects the other kids to be as obsessive about it as he is.

For example, he’s obsessed with Pokemon right now. Unless a kid is also obsessed with Pokemon, he doesn’t want to play with them. He has to find a kid who will allow him to go on and on about his latest obsession to really click with that child. Otherwise, he plays politely, but doesn’t seem to find much pleasure in it. It makes me really sad because he’s a great kid. Only a few kids seem to know how to get the best out of him.

We try to arrange play dates with other kids as often as possible, but people are so busy it rarely happens. We’re actively seeking out affordable group activities to provide social interactions with peers. He’ll be joining Boy Scouts later this month and he attends Sunday School. Luckily, he also has siblings to play with. Corban tends to get along best with older kids and even adults, which also presents challenges.

A: What have the biggest upsides been for your family? The biggest downsides?

M: The biggest upside is being with him all day. The biggest downside is…being with him all day! He drives me absolutely crazy! But I adore him.

In theory, homeschooling should be this beautiful parent/child journey of discovery. In practice, I’m tearing my hair out and he’s fighting me on every step. However, every day we gain insight into our son. Every day we tweak our technique with him and find better strategies to engage him. We love that he has the freedom to dive deep into the subjects that interest him. We also love knowing he isn’t stuck in a chair all day, desperately trying to pay attention.

We can feel like we’re failing every day, but when we look at the facts, he’s learning, and he’s much less frustrated and emotional than he was in traditional school.

A: What does a normal homeschooling day look like? Week? Month? Year?

M: We’re just learning our groove. So far, this is what seems to work: Corban wakes up, has breakfast, plays for a bit, and then we do a verbal lesson. We go over multiplication facts and spelling words for about 30 minutes. Then he has a break. Later, we have him read a book of his choice for 30 minutes. He often does math problems on the computer for half an hour as well.

Once or twice a week, we do a history lesson with him for about an hour. He does a science lesson with an experiment for an hour each week. We read to him every day.

We don’t do formal writing because he hates writing and we’re trying not to overwhelm him. We encourage him to write letters or lists several times a week. He also goes outside for exercise at least once a day. It’s not perfect, but we’re learning.

A: How long do you plan to homeschool?

M: As long as it feels like the best choice for each of our kids. We have a daughter who’s currently in public school kindergarten. For now, that’s working well for her. 

But for Corban, homeschool is the best choice for right now. We need to work on getting his ADHD under control before we’d even consider sending him back. We also have much more flexibility to play with different teaching strategies at home. Right now we’re learning about our son and what works best for his education. We may choose to homeschool him through high school. He is a bright kid, and he may be able to advance through the grade levels more quickly at home.

Parents and teachers: how do you feel about homeschooling? Have you tried it? Considered it? Taught kids in a traditional school setting before or after their homeschool experience? Please share in the comments!

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