This post is a little long, but important…
My husband and I have lived with my daughter and grandson most of his life. He and I bonded when he was in the hospital as a premature infant and we are VERY close! He refers to my daughter and me as “my parents.” We knew at an early age that something was going on with him. Not only was he extremely, ummmm…”active,” but he also had some areas (walking, talking, etc.) in which he was pretty far behind compared to others his age, which is very common with preemies, but we were a little concerned . When he was three, instead of answering questions he was asked, he would just repeat the question. He struggled to put two words together on his own. We put him in speech therapy and then he was accepted into a program at our local Kindergarten for children with developmental delays that he attended for two years. I can’t tell you how much these classes helped! By the time he started Kindergarten he was ahead of most of his peers and was talking ALL THE TIME…even in his sleep! We used to joke about it. At first he couldn’t talk…now he wouldn’t stop! My grandson was first put on medication for ADHD when he was six and in 1st Grade. He’s always been a sweet child, but had problems sitting still and being quiet (go figure 😉.) He did great in elementary school and made mostly As with a few Bs. He could read high school level books, but he just read the words and his comprehension was poor. He has always done very well with technology. I taught him to use a computer at around age 2 1/2 and by age 4-5 he could search for and download his own games (he taught himself to read well enough to do this). When he was five I caught him with my credit card in his hand trying to buy a game! He loved playing on the computer and more than once, when he would get too quiet, I would find him fast asleep at the desk!
My grandson could type faster with two fingers by age 8 than I could with all 10!! He could play TV game shows like “Lingo” and “Chain Reaction” better than some of the contestants! He learned multiplication, division, and fractions without much trouble. Memory games were a breeze for him…so was multitasking…(pic below was taken around 2012!) He did very well with sports and enjoyed playing soccer and basketball. We suspected him to be “twice exceptional” (both gifted and having a learning disability). In spite of his ADHD, it seemed as if he were going to do very well in school. Until he started middle school.
In the 5th grade my grandson’s grades began a gradual decline. To make matters worse, he started losing what few friends he did have. One of the most heartbreaking traits common to almost all children with ADHD is their inability to maintain close, personal relationships with their peers. Their inability to regulate their emotions is usually the main cause of this tragic fact. Children with ADHD are approximately 30% (or more) behind their peers in developing certain areas of their brains. One of these areas regulates emotions. Another controls the executive functions such as hindsight, foresight, time management, and working memory. The “little voice in their heads” that helps us make good decisions is missing (or is so quiet they can’t hear it!) They have no “pause” button…they simply react. Because of all this, they tend to get angry very quickly, but also get over it quickly. Their peers, unfortunately, aren’t as quick to forgive and forget. They are also impulsive and don’t make good choices. (This information is available on a series of videos by Dr. Russell Barkley, a psychiatrist who has done extensive research on ADHD. You can view the videos using the link at the bottom of the page!) These delays cause children with ADHD to be immature and the difference in maturity is greater as they get older. An eight year old who has a 30% delay would have the emotional maturity (or what Dr. Barkley refers to as “Executive Age”) of a child of 5 1/2 (approximately 2 1/2 years). A ten year old would be like a child of seven (3 years) and a 13 year old like someone who was nine (4 years difference). An eight year old is much more likely to be tolerant of a peer acting 5 1/2 than a 13 year old would be of one acting nine. Not only do they act less mature, but many times these children may be physically smaller than their peers; not necessarily in height, but often weight-wise as the medicine can suppress their appetites. My grandson has always been very small for his age; not only because he didn’t eat well, but because he was born prematurely and his mom is only 4’9″!
Executive functions are what allow us to have a goal, know what to do to get started toward that goal, and sustain whatever action is necessary to complete the goal. Because children with ADHD have delays in these functions, they need more instruction. You have to break things down into small steps for them. This explains why, when given a full class period to work on a report, my grandson would come home with two words written on his paper…his name! Once a child reaches middle school, they will experience a lot less “hand holding” than they did in elementary. The teacher will give an assignment with multiple instructions and leave it up to the student to complete it. A child with ADHD will look at the multiple instructions and simply have no clue as to where to begin. They get anxious and overwhelmed and as this continues day after day, they will fall further and further behind. They might start to think they are “stupid.” Their peers may make fun of them and they may begin to feel bullied. About half way through sixth grade, this happened to my grandson. We ended up pulling him out of public school to homeschool.
My grandson did very well with homeschooling this first time! We used an online program called “Time4Learning” that had cartoon-like characters to instruct, then quiz him on what he learned. He was allowed to sleep later and do his work during a time when his medication worked best, and NO HOMEWORK! He liked it ok, but when summer came he begged to be allowed to go back to public school, so we gave in and he started back at the beginning of 7th grade. Around that time he had a bad experience with a soccer coach. That experience, along with the growing difference in his size compared to his peers and the lack of friends made him decide to quit playing soccer. He still played basketball, but the height difference made it more difficult for him than ever, and this would be the last year he could play for the REC league.
Seventh grade started out ok, but as the work got harder he once again started to struggle. The newness of his return to school soon wore off and his classmates started treating him as they had before. He wasn’t invited to go anywhere and he was very lonely. We tried to get him an IEP to help with his academics, but were turned down (we found out later we were applying for the wrong thing, but of course they didn’t bother telling us!) Our local public schools have a very demanding curriculum. While helping my grandson with a Biology worksheet, I looked online for an answer only to find the entire worksheet, on the page of a COLLEGE Biology course!! I even asked the teachers about their work and they confirmed they were learning in seventh grade what we learned in high school. One teacher told me that because of the “core” (my state refers to them as “state standards,”) they are required to teach in one year what used to take a year and a half!
The pace and amount of work became overwhelming. Homework regularly took over 3 hours and was an absolute nightmare!! His medicine would be worn off (we tried “booster” pills…they didn’t help!) and he just couldn’t focus. We would all get so frustrated that it seemed every night ended with us yelling at each other and in tears. My poor husband started hanging out in the RV! We found out that what we should be asking for was a 504 Plan that would have accommodations such as longer time to complete work, doing every other problem instead of every problem, etc. My daughter and I met with his teachers early in the 8th Grade to apply for the 504. We described the problems we were having with homework and that the tests just had too much information for him to study at once. They argued that he was given class periods and advanced notice to complete work and study, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Once again we were back to those executive function deficits, but we didn’t know about those at that point. Limited working memory means you can’t keep multiple facts or bits of information in memory at once (think old person like me who has to write a lot of notes!) They also argued that since he wasn’t failing, he couldn’t be having too much of a problem. They had no clue what it was taking to keep him from failing and we were all exhausted! They used what we told them about the arguing, etc., during homework against us and tried to say we had a discipline problem. In other words, they denied the 504 Plan regardless of the fact we had papers from his psychologist where tests showed him to have a “severe deficit” in his ability to focus, etc.
My grandson started waking up or calling home “sick” at least twice a week. Missing so much school meant that he was falling further behind than ever before and my daughter was in danger of being taken to court over his absences. He was anxious and depressed. Then he started coming home covered in bruises. We finally found out that that he was allowing the other (much bigger) boys to “rough house” or “horse play” with him because he wanted them to be his friends so badly, but they were HURTING HIM! One even choked him! We pulled him out of public schools once more before Thanksgiving of his 8th Grade year and started homeschooling again.
We tried the Time4Learning again, but he grew bored very quickly. We tried several other things, but nothing was working. I did a lot of research and learned that children with ADHD do well with Delight-directed (child-led) learning and unschooling. I like the idea of unschooling, but wasn’t comfortable not having any structure. I also liked the idea of a child-directed learning approach, so decided that I needed something that would be a combination of the two. That’s when I learned about Fun-Schooling and Dyslexia Games by The Thinking Tree!
Fun-Schooling and Dyslexia Games were developed by Sarah Janisse Brown, a homeschooling mother of 15 children, five of whom are a sibling group they recently adopted. She and her family are missionaries who are from the U.S. and currently live in Ukraine. When her oldest daughter was eight, Sarah learned that she had Dyslexia. While looking for therapy to help her daughter, Sarah realized there wasn’t any that was affordable, so she did her research, decided to develop her own, and called them “Dyslexia Games.” Sarah also knew that children are born having natural curiosity about the world around them, so she started following her children around to observe how they learned. She took what she learned during these observations and created a method of learning she called Fun-Schooling!
Fun-Schooling is a mixture of Delight-directed learning and unschooling. Your child chooses a few things he or she would like to learn about. Then you help your child gather resources, such as library and/or personally-owned books; videos; documentaries; movies; and games, etc., based on these interests. The resources are then used to fill out the pages in the journals. For example, in the core (main) journals, there are “Spelling Time” pages that your child completes by finding his/her own spelling words based on criteria in the directions (such as a certain number of letters) in some of the books you’ve gathered or by looking at items around the house. There are pages that require your child to read out of one (or more) of his books, then write or draw about what they read. Other pages are for nature study and will ask your child to go outside and draw or write about things he sees in nature; practice some math problems; or watch a movie, tutorial, or documentary and write a little about it. The core journals touch on every major subject such as history, science, geography, reading, spelling, etc. Other Fun-Schooling journals are subject specific. Since your child is learning about things they WANT to learn about instead of what they HAVE to learn about, they won’t lose their natural curiosity and love of learning. Too many years of being told exactly how and what to learn in public school have destroyed my grandson’s love of learning. I’m working hard to get it back!! I will talk about Fun-Schooling Books and Dyslexia Games by The Thinking Tree quite a bit in subsequent posts!
Here is the link to the videos about ADHD by Dr. Russell Barkley: