by Kassandra Brown
Recently a client of mine (let’s call her Sue) shared that she had taken an on-line test to check whether she had ADD or ADHD. “A couple of my friends kept making jokes about me being ADD,” Sue said to me. “After a while I thought I’d see if they were right.” Her scores placed her in the ‘very strong probability’ category for ADHD.
Sue shared this information with me in our parent coaching session because she noticed that her son exhibits the same ADHD traits from the on-line test. She was wondering if she should talk with her son’s teachers. She also wondered about the consequences of having her son labeled as ADHD.
Labels: Harm or Benefit?
In medical treatment, it’s easy to get caught up in labels. Labels have power. They can be useful when they indicate a well known and helpful treatment path. Unfortunately, labels can also take on an unhealthy life of their own.
Are you curious about what’s right for your child? Asking a few key questions may help clarify your path.
- Are you planning on getting a formal screening or evaluation for your child?
- If you screen or evaluate, what do you plan to do with the information from that screening or evaluation?
- What is the existing relationship between your child and their teacher?
- Do you and your child experience trust and caring with the child’s teacher?
- Is the relationship between your child and their teacher adversarial?
Sue thought she should ask her son’s teacher to treat him as though he had ADHD. Sue thought doing this would help the teacher use a current model for ADHD to positively motivate the child. She also thought this might help the teacher to view the child’s disruption as a symptom rather than as misbehavior.
How might Sue answer these key questions? Sue wants her son to be treated well in school. She wants him to have a learning environment that works with his natural tendencies. She is not planning on a formal screening. She also has no plans for medication. Currently her son has a respectful and kind relationship with his teacher.
Creative Solutions (Without Labels)
The teacher relocated Sue’s son’s desk to accommodate his active learning style. She gave him a desk in the back row of the classroom where he is free to stand and move as long as he’s also doing his work. Being in the back of the classroom allows Sue’s son freedom of movement without disrupting his classmates. The solution is elegant in its simplicity and effectiveness.
Since the teacher is already showing a willingness to work with Sue’s child, I advised Sue not to share her ADHD suspicions. The danger of labeling Sue’s son is that that label will follow him from grade to grade. It may cause his next teacher to assess his needs, abilities, and mental health before getting to know him as a person. Instead, I suggested to Sue that she continue to form good relationships with her child’s teachers, advocate for his needs, and help implement positive solutions.
You can do this too. Talk to your child’s teachers at the beginning of the year. Be willing to share past challenges and solutions. Share your goals for your child’s learning. Be willing to help support the teacher.
Teachers are often busy trying to balance many needs and learning styles within the same classroom. Sharing your assessment of your child’s needs and also offering to help can help your child’s teacher hear better manage your child’s needs. Perhaps you can volunteer to come in once a week, teach something you know well, or support a subset of the class during small group work.
Many parents hesitate to offer help in the classroom because of a belief that classrooms are only for ‘real’ teachers. “What do I have to offer?” you, as a parent, may wonder. The answer is “A lot!” Just stepping in to sit with the kids and help them when they get stuck takes pressure off the teacher. The less pressure the teacher is under, the more likely he or she will be to be creative and flexible. This benefits everyone including your child.
Another reason parents often hesitate to volunteer in the classroom is that they do not feel they have the time. In order to know if that’s true ask, “How much time does it take to help?” If you can’t volunteer weekly, perhaps one hour a month might be enough to make a huge difference. Often there is some way for you to help at your child’s school, perhaps even before or after school. If your offer is sincere, you can find a way.
Getting to know the teacher, offering the teacher support, and communicating your child’s needs can create a successful learning environment that diagnosis alone cannot. This was true for Sue and it may be true for your family too. Before ADHD screening, evaluations, and medication, I recommend thinking about your goals and formulating a plan for positive change. If you need assistance in doing this, I am happy to help.
Have labels helped you and your children? When have labels stood in the way? Share your experiences with us.
Author Bio: Kassandra Brown is a parent coach living and working at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. She helps parents with a wide range of behavioral and relationship challenges through phone and Skype. Visit parentcoaching.org to learn more about how she can help you create a strategy for parenting success, tailored to your child’s needs.
Image Credit: Nwardez