I have ADHD and how well do I remember the agony of constantly losing my lunch box, my shoes, books, hat and worst of all, my homework book. My school desk was always a tip within 2 days of starting the new term and my school bag not much better. Yet I craved to be neat and organised like the other girls in my class.
I would start the term with my books covered neatly and perfectly organised in my desk and I felt so good. So what goes wrong? Is it laziness, lack of self-respect, poor parenting, being spoilt or can I just blame the fact that I had ADHD and therefore all is forgiven?
If you don’t have ADHD you will agree with the first reasons and if you have ADHD you will no doubt sympathise. Both are right and both are wrong. Life is never that simple and it is not only those with ADHD who are messy and untidy and forgetful.
I don’t believe that there is a single answer to the question and nor is there a single solution. Each child, parent and family is different.
I am going to give you some ideas about why ADDers (those who have ADHD) are forgetful and untidy and some suggestions that you can try with your family.
WHY ADDERS ARE UNTIDY AND FORGETFUL
- Distraction is the key characteristic of ADHD. It is involuntary due to the dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain not behaving as they should. Watch a short video clip which explains this well.
- ADHD is hereditary. 4 out of 5 children with ADHD have at least one parent with the condition. If the parents have not learned to manage their own ADHD they are unable to teach their children these skills. This is why we work with the entire family and with the teachers. You cannot work with the child in isolation.
- Co-dependency – many parents of ADHD children are desperate to protect their children from suffering the agonies they themselves suffered as children. They do not let their children take responsibility for their actions. They run after them, do their homework, tidy up after them and make excuses for them. The children do not learn to become responsible for their own actions.
- Due to our distraction we are living in our heads a lot of the time or leaping from one activity to the next at the speed of light that we simply forget what we are supposed to do or where we should be.
- Low self esteem – It is understandable that frustrated parents and teachers lash out at ADHD children calling them lazy, stupid, inattentive, loud, rude, anti-social, clumsy etc because we are very high maintenance and living alongside an ADDer is not easy. However, the consequence is low self esteem and humiliation.
- Time management – ADHD brains do not compute time very well. When the bell rings we panic and to avoid getting into trouble for being late we race off to class forgetting our books or leaving our lunchbox on the field.
- If your child has been properly assessed and diagnosed with ADHD, is s/he optimally medicated to reduce involuntary distractions? ADHD is a neurological condition and appropriate medication is usually needed to get the dopamines to behave appropriately.
- Accept that there is no quick fix or magic bullet. Parents, children and the school have to work together. Have a meeting with the teacher to discuss the problems you are having and brainstorm creative solutions.
- Have laminated checklists for each day. The child must tick off (not just look at) each items as it is packed and unpacked. Create the list with the child so that they know what is on the list and why it is there. Use pictures of the tasks or items for young children.
- Have everything checked and packed the night before. Keep mornings as stress free as possible.
- Are you enabling your child’s behaviour by doing everything for him/her because it is easier for you and there is less conflict? STOP!
- Ensure everything is correctly labelled. Accompany your child to the lost property and make them find their stuff. If they lose their shoes, they go to school the next day barefoot and they take the consequences.
- Have family meetings once a week to talk about what the week coming up. Get everyone on board with planning what is needed, where they have to go, who is going to take them. Spend time with them going through their stationery, bags, clothes cupboards etc. It is good bonding time.
- Reduce the anxiety that is very prevalent in children with ADHD. Use whiteboards. Make them feel involved by giving them chores and responsibility.
You may well agree that it is not your job to run after the children and make sure they have all their belongings. The reality is that today many of your learners come from less than ideal home circumstances and whether you like it or not you have to try and educate them.
- Write homework down at the beginning of the lesson so that if the ADHD children don’t finish their work on time they will at least have the homework.
- Get the children to eat before going out to play so that lunch boxes and juice bottles don’t get left on the playground. It also reduces litter problems. It is a great opportunity to teach nutrition and for those who are able to afford it to bring an extra sandwich for those who are hungry. Make it a bring and share event.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes before the end of each lesson to give the ADHD children time to pack up and find their books for the next lesson.
- At the end of break have 2 bells. Ring the bell 2 minutes before break ends so children know it is time to stop playing, find their belongings and be ready when the next bell goes.
- Use a buddy system to remind each other to check they have all their belongings. Let them tick off each others’ lists. It removes the humiliation and helps build social skills.
ADHD has to be managed everyday and ADDers like anyone else will slip and fail. Treat them like the people you would like them to become and they will respond positively.
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