Understanding and Supporting Students with ADHD
Play this Episode by Clicking Below
How parents and educators can advocate for students with ADHD - Episode 055
Advocating for students with ADHD
How can we best advocate for students with ADHD? I’m a trained school counselor turned academic coach and this week we are speaking about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and that is ADHD and misconceptions people have about it. Not only the misconceptions, we’re talking about the attacks. Those subtle and not so subtle comments that students who have ADHD face on a daily basis when going to school and how we, as parents and educators, can help students navigate the school setting, and even the work setting later in life, to deal with the scorn and remarks that come with having ADHD when you’re in an unsupportive environment.
I might get a little rant-y this week, I apologize in advance. But, this is a topic that needs to be addressed. So, let’s talk about it.
One of the things that I love about my job is that I get to interact and have conversations with parents and students across the country, who are (let’s face it, I’m biased) just amazing. This episode was kind of kicked off by a parent who – I worked with her child over the summer in my Organized School Year workshop and she sent me this article, because she rightfully so, said I would find it interesting.
It came from Attitude Magazine, which is a magazine dedicated to all things understanding and advocating for ADHD. I was even featured in a past issue of the magazine. The article she sent was: ”9 Mean Teacher Comments Every Student with ADHD Knows Too Well.” It’s an article by Elizabeth Broadbent. https://www.additudemag.com/mean-teacher-comments-adhd-students/
The article starts out “My teacher is so mean. She doesn’t like me.” If your child has ADHD, you know that ‘mean teachers’ are rarely cruel on purpose. But sometimes their lack of knowledge and training on ADHD means that they have expectations — and comments — that are wholly inappropriate and/or unhelpful for our kids.”
[That parent] sent me this article and I told her I had to hold off in reading it because I knew it was going to most likely trigger me into a rant and rave session, but before I could even get to the article, a post came up on my Facebook feed from a group I’m involved with that was addressing ADHD. While some of the comments were extremely helpful and open to being educated, others were snarky, filled with eye rolls, and incredibly hurtful. And these were coming from people who, quite frankly, should know better.
As I used the search bar to type in ADHD and look at other messages, I was amazed at the comments and the attitudes presented toward ADHD. I am not unfamiliar with this, because I experienced these same cruel comments and attitudes when I was in the workplace – that’s a story for another time.
These mean comments, the snark and sarcasm as it relates to ADHD, they’re not just in the classroom from teachers who mean well or don’t know better. We see them in homes, we see them from family and we see the min the workplace. And they’re something that a child or an adult with ADHD is going to have to face on a regular basis. It needs to be addressed.
I don’t care if you have a child with ADHD or you know someone with ADHD. Your butt better be in the chair listening to this episode because you have every opportunity to change your mindset and become an ally. As we‘re going to talk about in this episode, our kids need allies. They need people who are going to be willing to educate themselves and educate others in a helpful way, to protect them, to protect their self-esteem as they’re going through school.
Because what we’re going to find is that maybe our children aren’t in a place to protect themselves. If they’re not in a place to protect themselves, do we just let them get hit with these comments day in and day out and shatter their self-esteem? No. We the adults need to do better in protecting them.
Micro-aggression and ADHD
Initially, I thought maybe this would be a conversation about discrimination, and of course, as I am wont to do, I was looking up the definitions of discrimination and forming my thoughts around that, but I think it’s more important to not talk about discrimination, but to talk about micro-aggression.
When we say something like discrimination, people are really quick to be like “I don’t discriminate.” So let’s talk about Micro-aggressions. It’s something I don’t feel a lot of people are familiar with. It falls under that umbrella of unintentionally saying something that actually causes a lot of pain for the person on the receiving end.
So what is a micro-aggression?
Merriam-Webster says it’s “a comment that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”
Often, when we talk about micro-aggressions, we think about it in terms of racial bias.
Examples of that might be glibly saying to a student who is of Asian descent – “how can you need a tutor? I thought all Asians were good at math.” Or, “wait a second, you don’t speak Spanish? Why are you in Spanish 1? You should be in AP Spanish, right?”
Or one that was delivered to my daughter and I as we were waiting in line at Disney. Somebody ran up from the end of the queue to where we were standing and said “What mix is she? We’ve been playing this game, trying it figure it out.”
These are all examples of micro-aggressions. You might not be saying them with any ill intent, but the scars that they leave build up over time.
Let me just say that in reading some of these examples of micro-aggressions, I’m guilty of them.
It’s okay to be guilty of making a mistake and an error, but we have to look at our mistakes and see where we have to change in order to improve.
So, if we look at this article from ADDitude – some of the examples that I want to pull up that could be examples of what your child or you are facing include:
“If only you tried harder, you would…”
What? I would be successful? I would be an easy student to teach? Often, students who have ADHD are trying as hard as they can. But what works for them isn’t what works for every other student.
“If you stop making careless mistakes, you would be at the top of the class.”
Gee, ya know what? I love making careless mistakes. I love looking like a freaking idiot. There’s someone- and I’ve brought this up in the past – who made a point to send me an email about a typo I made in a newsletter. I will have to say that made me cringe. I felt so embarrassed. I felt like “I’m a professional. I shouldn’t make careless mistakes.” It’s something I’ve heard my entire life. Do you really honestly think a child wants to make careless mistakes and receive a lower grade? Yes, they can try and do techniques to learn, but it’s not as if they are intentionally trying to get silly points knocked off.
My own daughter came home one day after a test and said “I would have gotten a hundred, but I raced through it and I didn’t go back.” Here’s the kicker – you can go back and read it like three more times, but you’re going to read it at the same speed that you did before. It’s not as simple as taking your time and reading it over. That’s another micro-aggression.
· “How many times do I have to tell you?”
Well, you have to tell us quite a bit, and probably 10 more times. Our brains are so filled with information we have to let things go, and often times it’s not the things we want to let go so we’re shamed later on. Sometimes you need to tell us multiple times, and it’s not because we’re stupid. You don’t need to call us out in front of the class. It’s just the way our brains work.
· “You’re smart. You should be doing better in this class.”
This one really gets me. I’ve heard this as a student. I’ve heard teachers say it to students. I’ve heard parents say it to kids. You know what? I might have said it to my own child. A lot of these comments aren’t people intentionally being jerks. It’s speaking without thinking. And if we know ADHD, we know all about speaking without thinking.
Think about that. When you say ‘You’re smart. You should be doing better in this class,’ how do you think that makes a person feel? Especially if we’re trying the best we can or if we don’t realize the mistakes we’re making.
You hear these mistakes over and over again. “You’re not doing good enough. Stop doing that. No you can’t do that. What’s wrong with you? Why do I have to keep telling you over and over again?”
What message does that leave a child? It leaves the message that you’re stupid, that you’re not capable, you’re lazy and you don’t measure up.
We wonder why eventually we’re left with students who have no academic self-confidence and they’re shutting down?
What I can’t get over is that there are people within a profession who are supposed to be helpful to students that can’t even see that their own bias toward ADHD is harming their students. That is mind-blowing to me.
I’m not a perfect angel in any way shape or form. I admit on a regular basis to making mistakes all the time. Heck, I admit to making mistakes I haven’t made yet just so I can have a mea culpa in the future.
But teachers, school counselors, doctors, lawyers, cab drivers, whatever – all need to take a good long look at their mindset and understanding of ADHD and whether you are harming your students.
The last time I checked, not every teacher, not every school counselor has a PHD in neuropsychology.
You might have your opinion of what ADHD is, but you need to check that opinion, especially if it’s not helpful to a student at the door and start to educate yourself real fast, before you become part of the problem. Now that you’re listening and becoming aware of some of these examples, you have a choice. You can educate yourself and try to correct ship, or you can stay part of the problem.
I’m really becoming tired of staying silent when I see people who are part of the problem. Not only are they insulting me, they’re insulting my children, and they’re insulting some of my students. These are all things I’m very protective of, and I will come out with my claws. And I’m tired of it.
I have heard rumor of parents and students trying to cheat the system – I’ve never experienced it- but my belief is that every person you meet is a fresh slate until they give you reason to feel otherwise. Because what good does it do for you to think every student who comes in and asks for a 504 with ADHD is trying to cheat the system?
Like, what? You want a cookie because you think you’re smarter than them for trying to outsmart the system? What about the one student who actually needs it? I’m not giving you a cookie for being biased about someone before they even step into your office. No. No cookie for you.
Not only do kids see it in the school setting – you have grandparents who seem to think ADHD doesn’t exist, you have husbands or wives who might not be supportive, or moms in your PTA group. There’s always going to be someone who has a comment on ADHD and why they’re the expert on it.
As someone with ADHD, I question everyone. I don’t even know if the experts on ADHD know everything about ADHD, so you sure the hell don’t, You person that’s like making random comments on a message board.
These are things that children face on a daily basis in the school setting. They might face it at home, and they might face it when they get to the workplace.
How do we help?
If you do research on micro-aggressions, a lot of the ways to combat it is for the person who is on the end of the aggression to speak up in some way. but that’s not really fair t ask of a student. If they challenge isn’t the right word, because you don’t want them to be disrespectful, but even if they speak up to a teacher who says “You need to try harder’ that might be perceived as backtalk. And either the child was raised not to speak back, or it might be culturally based that they don’t talk back to an authority figure.
That teacher has a lot of power of a student. To ask a child to advocate for themselves in this situation might be asking too much.
Email me your thoughts – in a school situation where a teacher has power and control over your child, I don’t know if it’s right for them to speak up about the micro-aggression.
So who can? That would be us adults.
You want to address the micro-aggression, not the micro-aggressor. They might be coming from a place of good, or not being intentional in trying to harm a child. You want to attack what they’re saying, not them. If we attack each other, we’re just going to shut people down.
We also need to educate ourselves. Find an ally in your child’s school setting. Who knows and understands ADHD? Who might have a child in a similar situation? Which teachers are really supportive and want to help your kiddo? Reach out to them for help.
If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, I highly recommend getting involved in CHAD, or receive a subscription of ADDitudes, because even as a parent, I know that I before any of our diagnoses, I just thought ADHD was hyperactive bouncing off the walls. I had to learn, to read, to watch videos, to speak with other parents. What I found was most of what I thought was incorrect. It’s okay to be wrong, right?
But you can’t admit that you’re wrong or find out and not change anything.
Understood.org is another great resource.
The best gift I got from one of my kids’ teachers was when they straight up said “I’m not really familiar with this disorder, but I’m always open to educating myself so I can better help my students.”
When you find a teacher like that, you should offer resources. Look for information that might be helpful to them. See if there are speakers who can come into your child’s school and talk to the staff about ADHD or other invisible disabilities.
If we can’t let our children’s self-advocate in these situations, then we need to be better as adults. While your kiddo might not be aware about how to self-advocate, they are aware of the scorn they are facing. They are aware of the “burden” they’re putting on people.
And if we want to help them flourish and thrive in school, we need to step up. As parents, as educators, as counselors, we should know better.
What’s going to happen if we don’t start educating ourselves, we’re going to see a group of awesome, amazing kiddos with the capability to change the world come up with innovative ideas – we’re gonna squash that. And that is just really sad.
If they come through at the other end eventually – why does it have to be a torturous journey?
I’ve met so many kids who have done great things in their lives and they were like “my middle school/high school experience was pure hell because I had to constantly fight for my grades. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t feel like the teachers liked me and I didn’t feel like I was good enough and then I had to spend 20 years rebuilding my self-esteem.”
Why do we have to put them through that? Why don’t we just stop?
What I encourage you to do – I’m going to give homework.
Shoot me an email (email@example.com) with one thought (or myth) you had about ADHD and a link to something legit that disproved it. Let’s have a conversation.
And then when you find that information, share with someone else. Let’s spread the message and debunk these myths about ADHD and get some positivity out there.
Shoot me some things you’ve learned – firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s continue this conversation
Listen to the full episode for more tips and front line stories of the transition to middle school. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Googleplay, or Iheartradio or visit http://www.schoolcounselorgonerogue.com each week for the full episode (though let’s be honest, subscribing is so much easier!)
You can also sign up for the waitlist for The Organized School Year at teampasch.com/theorganizedschoolyear. It’s an intensive workshop to help your child create and implement an organization system that meets their needs.
Sign up for the waitlist here!
The myths of ADHD and how to refute them
Supporting a child with Attention Deficit Disorder
Marni Pasch| Host of School Counselor Gone Rogue| Academic Coach | Team Pasch Academic Coaching
I work with students in grades 6th and higher, who struggle with academic confidence and motivation. I help them survive school with less stress by helping them create concrete goals, tackle procrastination and learn creative study techniques. I empower students to take charge of their education and reach their goals. I do this through individual or group coaching so students achieve success in life, school, career readiness and their social endeavors. I provided in person academic coaching in Orlando, FL, but work with students across the country through Zoom!