My daughter has ADHD (I don’t know if I have ever said this in print) but this is not how she needs or should be defined. As many of you know my daughter has been one of the greatest inspirations for me and many of my writing. She makes me think and yes all kids make parents think but she makes me question everything I do as a teacher. For my colleagues the reason why I always ask “what are your intentions” is because of Izzy.
Having a child with a learning disability and ADHD has been a struggle. The system we currently have unfortunately is not enough and I work in this system. Now don’t get me wrong she has and does have fabulous teachers but like all great teachers there is only so much that they can do with the resources they have. As I mentioned before this has been one of the hardest things I think I have ever dealt with as a teacher and as a parent. There has been many battles with IEPs, discussion with teachers about what ADHD means about LD and more importantly how Izzy learns. I have spent countless hours researching and learning about Izzy’s disability because I know what it takes for her to be successful. It has been very frustrating at times because of these battles. I know my daughter, I know she is frustrating but I also know that she has one of the most beautifulest minds you will ever see and I felt that many teachers just didn’t see it. I still remember one year I was just told, “I have never had a girl like Izzy.” I have sat in cars crying, I have sat in my house yelling and screaming in frustration but with every battle I have learned more and more about my daughter and also about how to talk and teach children.
As I have mentioned before I have always said having Izzy go through school has been the best thing that has happened to me. I have been trying to write a post like this for quite some time but it often turns to anger instead of my intent. I have many posts that start with “all teachers should have a child with a disability” or “what I wish our education system should know from a parent point of view” but it wasn’t till my good friend Ruthie Sloan wrote her post about empathy that it finally clicked. My daughter is one of the most amazing people that you will ever meet and one of the most frustrating. Here is what she has taught me:
- Have empathy towards our students:
This has probably been one of my biggest learning. When I first started teaching I would love to say I had compassion for students but I don’t know if I truly did. I see kids a lot differently now that I have had a child who struggles to be seen, heard and understood. I listen to conversations in staff rooms, or interpret in school review committees differently because I know what its like to be the parent of a child who is not seen, heard or understood. I try to look at children with “soft eyes” because that is what I hope teachers do with my daughter. All children want to be loved. I know at times this is one of the hardest things to see. As teachers we have extremely busy and frustrating days but children don’t come to school to make our lives miserable and just want to be loved.
2. There is always a reason why students misbehave:
This comment goes with the above. I know with my daughter and with most kids that there is always a reason for the misbehaviour. Because Izzy has ADHD the impulsive things or the on point one moment and not the next isn’t her choosing. Yes, she is to be held accountable for behaviour but we as educators need to think about why those behaviours are happening. Stuart Shanker’s work on self reg has been absolutely fundamental in learning about this. Understanding that we as educators need to reframe and redirect behaviour has been a huge change for me.
3. ALL kids need accommodations:
This is everything and yet one of the most frustrating things as a parent and teacher. ALL kids will benefit from accommodations and because we give them doesn’t mean that we are cheating the system or the kids are some how not meeting standard. I am not trying to be preaching here but something that irks me a little. That being said ALL kids need them but for students like Izzy they will not survive without them. As a parent the amount of times that I have had to fight for her accommodations is crazy and I know the system. Our students deserve better and we as a system can learn more about how to accommodate our students. Four questions that I have been focusing my planning on are 1) Do they know what to do? 2) Do they know when to stop? 3) Do they know what to do afterwards 4) Is it developmentally appropriate? If we can answer those questions you will see a lot more happier children.
I have written many posts on this that I don’t even know where to begin here. You can see my Tedx talk on it too. Bottom line is the more we make connections the less problems we have. We need those connections between children in order to make sure that when we have to discipline it isn’t seen as an attack but at a place of love and learning. Izzy is no different. She listens more to the ones she knows love her and she doesn’t resist as much when she has a relationship with you versus when she doesn’t. When kids feel threatened their animal brains take over and the with fight or flight; in my daughters case you get the fight 99% of the time. This is protective mode. This is survival for them. But when you have that relationship you can talk her off that ledge and then reason once she is calm.
5. Not all disabilities are visible:
This has probably been my biggest learning. ADHD isn’t a disability that you outwardly see. The other problem is that Izzy has moments where she is on fire and you look at her and go man you get it one day but not the other. Many students with ADHD are also gifted. But then there are moments where it just isn’t there. The video below has a great analogy about a race car with a super engine but with bicycle brakes. I often call ADHD my super power (yes it is hereditary). It has allowed me to do many amazing things but it also has hinder me in many other areas. See disabilities means that you see the child for who they are and accept who they are for all that they have. It means allowing them to express their learning in a variety of ways, to be super energetic or to move. It means that we have to let go of our notion of compliance and question why we do what we do.
6. No this is not an act or done on purpose
This sort of ties with the above but Izzy doesn’t often act out on purpose. Her actions are often impulsive and she has social lagging skills. Many students with LDs have this and even more so with ADHD. There is often anxiety and mental health issues tied to ADHD because they are so misunderstood. Because Izzy can be on one minute and off 10secs later it is perceived that her actions must be intentional. Even as a parent I have to remind myself that this is not the case.
7. Be kind you are still learning
I have to remind myself of this every day. I make mistakes all the time. There is no one that beats them self up more than me as a parent. I blame Izzy’s misfortunes on my failings but I have to have kinder eyes. I have to say it is okay, keep learning and keep growing and I think as educators we have to have that too. We all have busy careers and classrooms. We have many balls we juggle and those balls will fall.
Thank you for listening to me write about this topic. I have been trying to articulate these past two years for quite some time. I want educators to learn more about ADHD but also that we as educators can do more to shift and rethink how we work with those with special needs. Seeing with empathy is a great place to start.
If you want a really great video about ADHD take a look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhcn1_qsYmg or if you are a podcast person take a look at this: https://www.adhdrewired.com/. Or learn more from this website: https://www.understood.org/en
As always if you have questions or comments please add them below or message me. Or if you have a story to share I am happy to listen.