October 15, 2015

Elementary School Kids Group IsolatedOctober has arrived and with it, a transition from the longer days of summer to the shorter and days of fall. For many, the change of the leaves, the crisp cool air and the fun of breaking out one’s favorite sweatshirt are things that create fond memories. For parents of school-aged children, October also means that school is now back in full swing and the workload for kids has increased as a review of last year’s material transitions into covering new material, as it is no longer a review of materials from the previous year but, instead, all new material for the new grade with exciting new projects. Although this is an exciting time of year for many students, it can be a bit of a different story for students with an Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is a complex neurological disorder characterized by a “persistent” or on-going pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that gets in the way of daily life or typical development. Individuals with ADHD may also have difficulties with maintaining attention, executive function and working memory. In October, these issues may begin to surface (or magnify) for individuals with ADHD as October’s workload increases in schools.

At Epic, we see an increase in referrals for students with ADHD in October. More often than not, the reason given for these referrals is that students are beginning to exhibit “behavioral challenges.” The back-to-school honeymoon is over and students who are diagnosed with ADHD begin to find schoolwork, in addition to the responsibilities they maintain outside of school, daunting and overwhelming. These pressures begin to manifest themselves in a variety of behaviors that interfere with the child’s ability to learn as well as behaviors that may impact other children’s ability to learn.

Believe it or not, this makes perfect sense to a Behavioral Analyst. As the workload increases, and expectations rise, so do the child’s stress level and his or her motivation to escape. As a result, the child resorts to displaying behaviors that have previously been successful in getting adults to back off on the demands. If these behaviors are successful in delaying, reducing, or eliminating the expectation this year, it’s likely that the child will continue to use these behaviors to get out of the work in similar situations in the future. This can be a vicious cycle that goes on for the school year or it can be avoided by understanding several proactive concepts and strategies that parents and teachers with whom we work have come to rely upon to get students back on track.

Here are 5 proactive strategies that parents can use to support their child diagnosed with ADHD:

  1. Focus on what you want to see! Focus on the positive and be specific about what types of strategies would be helpful to each child. Try to tell the child what TO DO and not what NOT to do.
  1. Schedules are a parents’ best friend. Create a schedule at home that is consistent and predictable. Stick to the same sequence each day even if the times have to vary a bit on different days. That is, first we do homework, then we have dinner, then we read, then we can watch TV. Weekends should be more flexible but have some level of predictability.
  1. Checklists and visuals are a great ways to support a child’s ability to get and stay organized. Start with a visual or written schedule to support the notion of predictability (i.e., finish one thing, check it off, and move on to the next thing). Be sure to embed some preferred activities throughout the schedule and make the last activity something like “bring your completed checklist to mom to get a big hug (or a brownie).”
  1. Set aside a specific area for tasks that require focus. Create a “work space” that is free from unnecessary distractions. When it’s time to get down to work, put the cell phone way, turn the TV off, and keep the work surface clear of all unnecessary objects. Some kids will argue that they work better while listening to music on headphones or that they need to use their phones to look up information or ask questions of peers. Although some of this might be true, try to at least kick the session off 100% free of all of the distractions and avoid these distractions until a significant chunk of work has been completed.
  1. Allow a child to ask for help and provide it willingly and without reservation. Children who feel comfortable requesting assistance, will request assistance with areas that are difficult. This can reduce the likelihood of behaviors of concerns since they have the ability to make a task easier. (This also helps parents identify areas of concern to communicate to teachers.) Over time, the assistance can be faded to such that you get them going and then back off.

To help a child adopt new routines and ways of solving problems, we, as the adults, need to adopt new routines and ways of supporting problem solving. While the use of these strategies will not be a magic bullet, with consistence and persistence they will support desirable habits for those who use them. Contact us today to learn more about how Epic can help your child with ADHD.