For 10 months of the year, my 8-year-old daughter chafes against a school system that expects students to sit down, sit still, and conform. But she was born move, fidget, and think outside the box. Every school day is a struggle — and I hate that fact almost as much as she does.
My daughter finds most school subjects boring. When faced with a lesson about fractions, she struggles with all her might to pay attention. Most neurotypical children can tune out the bird singing outside the window or the classmate tapping his pencil on a desk, but my daughter’s brain is wired to try to pay attention to everything. This is a blessing and a curse.
Unless my daughter is very interested in something, her brain tries to take in everything else — sights, sounds, smells — that surrounds her, seeking pleasure. As a result, she never gets the whole pizza pie; just one slice here and one slice there. During a history lesson, she may hear the bit about Henry Ford creating the Model T, but miss the part about the assembly line. Thanks to these gaps, she struggles with assignments and tests.
On paper and in comparison to other students, she might appear lazy and slow, but she’s very intelligent. She is a deep thinker and can grasp concepts that most neurotypical children can’t. When asked about a personal passion, she will give you a thoughtful and heartfelt answer. Some of her thoughts and realizations blow me away. Unfortunately, these things rarely count in the classroom. Instead, she’s given boring multiple-choice tests about subjects that do not interest her.
When she comes home from school, homework feels like a battle most days. She tries to get out of it, I have to enforce it, and the whole thing is a very unpleasant experience for both of us. She struggles with executive dysfunction and poor organization skills, so I have to sit next to her to help her get started and keep her on track and on task.
On top of that, her handwriting is horrible. She wants to get through her homework as quickly as possible and she doesn’t care if her handwriting is messy. Although her handwriting makes me cringe at times and I know she is capable of writing more neatly, I’ve learned to let it go. Otherwise, there will be a meltdown and tears, which will result in it taking even longer to complete her homework.
When she has a math problem that she doesn’t understand, she gets frustrated and angry, throwing herself on the floor at times. It takes all of my strength to remain calm and patient with her. Eventually, she calms down enough to let me help her and she completes her homework — all of it, every day.
Yes, homework is harder for children with ADHD, and I suppose I could have reduced homework included in her IEP. However, love or hate my opinion, I feel strongly that having ADHD is not a free pass to skip homework (or anything else for that matter). There are no free passes in life, and I need my daughter to understand this. Certain things will always be more difficult for her to achieve, but that doesn’t mean they are not achievable. She is smart, creative, and resourceful — and even though she may take a different approach, need an accommodation, or require extra help, she can reach any goal.
Besides the schoolwork, my daughter also struggles socially during the school year. Recent studies have shown that the social maturity of children with ADHD may lag three years behind their peers. While the other third graders are gathered in a circle calmly talking about a current movie, my daughter hops around pretending she’s a rabbit. I love that kid to death and I appreciate her imaginative and creative mind, but I can also see why her peers find her odd. They are not accepting of her because they do not understand her.
As an adult who’s already been through it all before, I know it is their loss. I know that being included by the “cool girls” doesn’t matter. But my little girl’s world gets shattered every time she sees other girls getting handed invitations to birthday parties — and she’s not included. Her heart breaks every time she tries to join a conversation and gets shut down with a sassy, “It’s none of your business.” As her mother, it breaks my heart, too. And I’m sick of it.
Fortunately, come mid-June, my daughter will be all mine and I plan on spoiling the heck out of her. She deserves a great summer vacation. She works so hard during the school year to conform both academically and socially. Here are some of the things my daughter won’t be doing during this year’s summer break:
- My child won’t be reading textbooks. Instead, her summer days will be filled with her favorites, like Captain Underpants and Dog Man. We’ll take weekly trips to the library, where she will be free to choose whatever she likes — including audio book and comic books.
- My child won’t be learning about subjects that bore her. Instead, I’ll let her decide what she wants to learn about. If she wants to learn to make slime, that’s cool. If she wants to learn more about how recycling works, that’s cool too. It’s important to nurture our kids’ natural curiosity and help them discover their passions.
- My child won’t be left out. Instead, we’ll invite her close friends over for fun play dates. These friends understand and appreciate my daughter for who she is. This makes me very happy.
- My child won’t be bored. Instead, her summer days will be filled with all the things she loves: art projects, science experiments, swimming, roller-skating, and trips to the beach and amusement parks. All the things we don’t have time for during the school year.
Unless you are a parent of a child with ADHD, you can’t fully understand what these kids go through during the school year. There are many tears and fights. There are late nights and sleepless nights. There are struggles, and there are triumphs. As parents, we experience it all with them. It is hard and dirty work, but we somehow manage to get through it every year.
We help our children. We encourage them. We push them to reach their potential. We use every ounce of our energy to make sure they are on the right path. We do it regardless of the fact that we rarely get a little “Thank you.” Not from our kids. Not from the school. Not from anyone. So I’m here to tell you that you and your child rocked it this school year and you both deserve an amazing summer break. I hope you get one.
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