Recently a parent asked me what set off my warning bells about Attention Deficit Disorder in a young child. The school had called about his son who had been in kindergarten less than a week. The phrase Attention Deficit Disorder was not mentioned, but the teacher was talking about his childís lack of focus and high energy levels. She requested a meeting with the parents. What should they know when going into the meeting?
Teachers cannot diagnose ADD/ADHD. While many veteran teachers know what the many forms of ADD look like, they cannot diagnose it. That task belongs to a medical professional who has clinical experience working with people who have ADD. A teacher should NEVER tell you that a child has Attention Deficit Disorder. The teacher could say that the child has trouble paying attention or sitting still. They can tell you how specific behaviors impact learning for that particular child.
Parents are the experts on their child. By the time that a child is in kindergarten, parents have seen about 2,000 days of living with their child. Thatís a lot of time in myriad settings. Especially if the child has been playing alongside of other children, parents have a sense of how their child compares to his peers. True, most parents have not spent time with their child in an academic setting, but they have seen their children interact with many environments. Some parents have niggling little concerns. A teacher can help confirm that these concerns could be valid. This is certainly true when a family has several members who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.
If both the teacher and the parents are concerned about the possibility of ADD, what should happen? First, the parents should educate themselves about Attention Deficit Disorder. There are several book reviews on this site that can help them choose good resources. Second, find a good clinician. A teaching hospital often has good diagnosticians. Other parents can also be good sources of information. Third, have your child evaluated by somebody who has expertise in Attention Deficit Disorder. Do not settle for somebody who does not specialize in helping those with ADD. Finally, keep an open mind about medication. There is an art and science to prescribing it for children. Nobody wants a zombie child. Properly prescribed medication should not do that.
If it is not ADD, what could it be? A young child who has not had formal schooling can be naÔve about the classroom expectations. In the beginning, they donít know that you cannot roam around and talk when you want to. Kids who have been to preschool usually know the rules, but some kids have never been to preschool. A bright child who has had a rich environment might be bored in school. This can cause them to make their own version of fun. Attention Deficit Disorder could have nothing to do with it. A child who is sitting in a chair that doesnít allow her feet to touch the ground could fidget. When she gets a chair of the right size, her fidgets should stop.
Other physical and psychological problems can mimic ADD. Absence seizures can look like inattention, as can depression. Problems with hearing can cause kids to have difficulty paying attention. When children struggle to get good quality sleep, it impacts their ability to attend to a task. The same applies to life events that cause children to worry. Some anxious children move and talk a lot to help relieve their anxiety.
What should you do at the conference? First, know that you are your childís first teacher. You ARE the expert on this child. Second, listen with an open heart and mind to what the teacher has to say. Many experienced teachers know that working through a problem before it is a major part of the childís life is very helpful. Take good notes. Thank the teacher for her concern. Take time to consider what was said, and do not rush into anything. Donít discuss the teacher and her views in front of your child. The parents and the teacher need to be a team to help the child. If, instead of a small informal meeting, this is a large group meeting, donít make decisions on the spot. Ask for time to digest what was said and do your homework. You might want to get in touch with a parent advocacy group, especially if you felt overwhelmed.
What happens at the beginning of your childís school career can color his entire educational development. The initial experience that your child has with school should be filled with wonder and joy. You can help to make that happen through your advocacy. My e-book, Building School Success with ADD, was meant to help parents through this process of enhancing their knowledge base and becoming effective advocates.
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