Children Going Again to College: ADHD Considerations and Hopes
At the beginning of 2020 my 9-year-old son got going. With ADHD and dyslexia diagnoses the previous year, he had received new support and was thriving. He was academically good, loved his teacher, and had started making good friends.
Then on March 11, 2020, Seattle became the first major public district in the country to close its schools, and everything changed. Quickly.
Like many families in the months that followed, and in our case the year after that, we struggled with this new world of online learning.
My son didn’t like studying through a screen and struggled to connect with his classmates and teachers. He had personally participated extensively in the classroom discussions. In virtual learning, he was calm and withdrawn. When I didn’t make sure he logged in at 8:30 a.m., he would often sit and stare blankly at his computer without turning it on. Without the physical classroom structure, he also found it harder to focus and struggled to do his asynchronous tasks.
For a child who was once firmly anchored in his school and community, he seemed to float aimlessly. And the only people who seemed to notice that were me and my husband.
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Parenthood in crisis – with ADHD
To add fuel to the fire, I also have ADHD. With distance learning, I struggled to keep my head above the water. Other neurotypical parents would complain that the situation was difficult (and it was), but with my brain these struggles were made worse.
Scheduling was never my forte, and with two kids in online school – one in kindergarten and one in fourth grade – and my own work on top of that, every day felt like a survival mode.
With multiple passwords, technical issues, and schedule changes, I didn’t feel like I was failing – I knew it was me. I’ve worn myself out over the months, and the fun of being the kind of parent I wanted to be – the one who baked and spoke French to my kids and it was okay for them to cover the kitchen floor with baking soda, when they did a science experiment – began to subside. When I lost energy, I lost my personality.
I was homeschooling my children without all of the benefits of homeschooling I had heard of, and I was in a school system without the support I needed to make that system actually work for my family.
[Read: The Return of In-Person Learning Is Largely Good — and Stressful]
What will the future bring?
In Seattle, all students are expected to return to school full time and in person in September 2021. While I enjoy this, as autumn approaches, I am filled with what-ifs and concerns about returning.
There are the worries I’m trying to shake off, like a new twist that wreaks havoc and causes schools to suspend their reopening (please Universe, don’t let this happen).
Then there are my more realistic fears: what if my son finds traditional school boring? On the few occasions he had been given face-to-face tuition in the past year, the school had planned a 3-Rs curriculum that would not put my child under its spell again. Will it be the same this time? Or what if his school marginalized subjects like arts and social studies in favor of reading, writing, and math in a Herculean attempt to catch up with children due to learning losses during the pandemic? If that happens, I can’t imagine my son finding an interesting place at school again because, to be honest, it won’t be.
Then there is my last fear: actual loss of learning. With ADHD and dyslexia, my son is often at a disadvantage when it comes to reading and writing, and he has been unmotivated to do his homework for the last year. Although his grades are okay, I’m worried about how he’ll do in fifth grade. Sure, other students will likely have learning gaps as well, but time has shown that my son’s learning gaps really affect him and are not easy to fill.
In September, will he watch his colleagues recoup their academic losses much faster than him? And if so, how does that affect his confidence and motivation to learn?
Along with these keep-awake-in-night thoughts, I have some hopes for the coming year. While we often complained about “technical breakdowns” in the past year, the technology has also gained widespread acceptance for my son. For the first time, he was doing his typing on a laptop, and the speech-to-text program he was using made a huge difference in his ability to produce content. Suddenly, instead of hammering out a few words in a minute, he could create stories and full reports. This will be an extremely useful tool for him to use in the future and I am grateful that distance learning helped him use it before.
We were also able to see how our child actually learns and find new ways to support them. For example, we found our son needed more time to complete class assignments and made sure this property was on his updated IEP. When he failed a math test and said he would like more time for it, I encouraged him to ask his teacher to have him repeat the test and give him more time. Both his classroom and the special education teacher agreed and he got a near-perfect score next time. With a little help from us, he was able to stand up for himself and see the difference a learning home can make. I hope that this self-advocacy experience stays with him.
How to help a child return to face-to-face learning
There’s no doubt about it – distance learning has been tough, and for all the questions that arise, most of me look forward to starting school full-time again. With a little help from us, our children can make the transition successfully and celebrate their return to face-to-face learning in the coming school year by following these tips:
- Support child connections: Before the school year starts, help your child bond with other children who will be attending their school. Schedule in-person or online game appointments, enroll your child for summer camp, or have them join a local sports team or extracurricular activity. If you don’t know any families attending school, contact the school principal or PTA president for ideas on how to get to know some.
- Stay positive: Remind your child of their past successes. No matter what her school situation was like last year, it is very likely that she was neither normal nor ideal – and they made it! They are superheroes now and are about to start the new school year. Yes, they may still have to wear masks, but now they can do science in class or (fingers crossed) have more freedom to play in different areas of the school yard during breaks.
- Remind your child, ‘You know you.’ If the last year has taught me anything, it’s what worked for my child and what didn’t. This type of self-awareness is a powerful thing a child can have. Encourage your children to take what they have learned about themselves as learners into the coming school year. This can mean practicing self-advocacy, moving to a new learning strategy, or incorporating technology into their education in new ways.
Kids Going Back To School: Next Steps
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Updated August 5, 2021