Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back-to-School Migration

Since we are all in the midst of the annual back-to-school migration, not unlike the mass migration of thousands of gazelle across the African Serengeti Plains, I thought I would share my top three ideas to help maintain sanity in spite of the confusion -- and ask you for your ideas.

My first idea: Celebrate the new school year.

My son Blake and daughter Madison love our shopping trips to prepare for school. We comb the aisles in Staples and Office Depot for Madison’s spiral notebooks featuring photos of different breeds of dogs and soft-sided three-ring binders in fuchsia, green, and royal blue. She picks out a different color for each subject and later fills the binders with paper and dividers and decorates with stickers. Then off to the clothing stores for school clothing: laced-bordered tops and tee shirts that can be layered over jeans and empire dresses with flounces.

Blake has always liked mechanical pencils for math and science, magic markers, pens with thick grips, and highlighters in multiple colors. He also likes erasable pens -- all of these items help those with ADHD. Now that he is in college, we also shop for his studio apartment – everything from dishes to towels, and vases with dried flowers to framed cityscape photographs.

Next come finding backpacks with lots of pockets that we can allocate for pens, wallets, cell phones, calculators, notebooks, laptop computers, Balance Bars, and umbrellas. The fresh supplies, the colors, the thrill of shopping and a lunch, all make for a celebration, recognizing this special annual event in their lives.

My second idea: Have a staging area in your home for all their school work and school items. (This applied to Blake when he was living at home.)

In our case, it has always been the kitchen. As I mentioned last month, we always had “Homework Club” after school. So in the interests of organization, I thought I would devote a section of the kitchen for their work and for everything related to school. A table with shelves under the window holds laptops, homework and projects “in process.” A bulletin board holds school notices, announcements and permission slips.

I have book shelves -– one for Blake (the higher one because he is taller) and one for Madison so they can easily store and swap books as they are working, and grab books as they run out the door. A dictionary, reference books, school directories, and parent lists are good to keep here, too.

A drawer (or box) with hanging files is a blessing. We make a file for each subject, and as they need to file class notes or materials, they can pull the papers out of their binders and quickly pop them into the hanging files. In this manner, we keep down the paper clutter in their backpacks and preserve the class notes from getting mashed with bananas at the bottom of a backpack.

Keep a drawer (or box) with stationery supplies -– notebooks, paper, colored paper, erasers, pens, pencils, poster board -- immediately available so you don’t have to run out and buy glue at 11:00 p.m. the night before a project is due.

I also posted a checklist for Blake (when he was younger) and Madison that they can look at before leaving the house: Do you have lunch money, cell phone, books for the day, sweater, homework and projects?

Backpacks sit against the wall in an alcove, ready to go out the door in the morning, as we rushed to the train station or to the carpool.

Having a staging area helps “corral” all the school items, but it isn’t a guarantee. One time, my husband Ben (who does not have ADHD) decided to put the homework away, despite my asking him not to touch the homework. He succeeded in putting Madison’s homework into Blake’s backpack and Blake’s math project into Madison’s backpack. Blake left for high school thinking I had placed his project in his pack. I received a panic call from him when he arrived in San Francisco, saying that not only was his project missing but it was due that day. “Why is Madison’s homework in my backpack?” he asked. I made Ben leave work and drive Blake’s project up to the city. Needless to say, Ben decided to leave the homework alone after that.

My last idea: Be proactive with the school and establish a connection.

One of the first things you will want to do is set up a meeting with your son or daughter’s elementary, middle or high school teachers. “I don’t want you to have to guess,” I told them as I described Blake and Madison’s ADHD, the treatment, the medication, the routines, advice from our doctor, the IEPs, and the accommodations. Sometimes, even a simple accommodation can make a big difference. For example, when Blake was in 4th grade, just allowing him to get up from his seat and stand in the back of the classroom or leave the room for a drink of water, helped him refocus. I also warned them about Madison’s tendency to talk, and we agreed to place her in the front of the classroom.

You’ll find that teachers don’t necessarily know nor have access to the school files and they will appreciate your openness and honesty. You will also want to tell teachers how you will work with them, that you want them to call or email you if there is a problem. (Of course, you will get the calls and emails.) You want to make things consistent between home and school, and you want your child to know that you and the teachers are working together. This is always good for a child with ADHD.

This meeting is also an opportunity to talk to the teachers about your son or daughter’s strengths, their interest in space probes or Roman history or piano or swimming. The teacher will get a better picture of who your children are as individuals and may subsequently have more patience and understanding.

One of Blake’s 10th grade teachers, who is a very stern Russian lady, listened to me skeptically at first. Then she saw his talents. She was patient with his antics and even used her sense of humor to defuse situations. Finally, she admitted to me, at the end of the school year, that she really appreciated the fact that I had talked to her at the beginning of the year. “You gave me facts,” she said, “and set the tone.”

You have my three ideas, now, let’s hear yours…



  1. I don't have any ideas and I'm running out of hope. My 10th grader just doesn't care. Needless to say he is not starting the year out very well. He hates us and won't let us help.Paula - warnick@mho.com

  2. Great ideas.. especially the Homework Station!! In a small apartment, it's going to be a bit more difficult to implement, but my son is far more important than my fine china... so I guess it will have to go in deep storage and he'll get the buffet!!

    I would like to hear if anyone has made any headway in addressing combination giftedness and ADHD. I have found great resistance in the past from teachers, counselors, etc., in understanding that ADHD and giftedness combined creates its own unique set of symptoms/manifestations. I'm optimistic, since we're starting at a new school, that the air of welcome and acceptance I feel there will extend to the way they deal with ADHD. Crossing my fingers....

    ADHD Mom of an ADHD Blessing,


  3. Blake made my life so much easier with the book he wrote. As soon as I recognized your name I knew I had to read on. Thank you does not seem to be enough gratitude for the knowledge I now have because of that wonderful book and your ideas. My son is eight this year and going into 3rd grade. We have come such a long way since I read the book and understood more about my reactions and my sons. He is on a 504 plan at school and we work hard together to stay on track. My son's engine still needs frequent maintenence but he is learning to control those high RPM's. Thnak you to you and your family for sharing.
    Tesla Hahn

  4. Dear Nadine,

    Thank you so much the blessing of your blog. I happened to have time to read all your posts, going all the way back. I am a middle school teacher AND have non-hyper ADD (the lazy space cadet!). I find there is very little (ms. Solden thx!)written on this type. At 54, divorced, and having to make my way again, I've been lamenting my own late parents' clueless raising of me.But now I realize, I have to start forgiving them, and not stay stuck. My older brother went to Harvard, and I was the doofy dreamy clumsy blonde younger sister. Since my diagnosis came at age 39, they could not POSSIBLY have known (in the 1960's) that they had to share their own rather dysfunctional cerebral cortexes with me in order for me to thrive. My dad likely had the condition himself. I will use many of your back to school ideas with MY kitchen and for my students' moms too! Thank you!

  5. I am glad I came around your blog! I am a mom of and AD/HD (blessing) child. Today is Thursday morning of the first week of school. The first day was all excitement!!! The following day all the AD/HD signs arrive, and I don't welcome them. I've tryed to return to school my self, thinking that as he gets older he will be able to finish after school work on his own, but I have found that is nearly impossible. My husband and I work together to help him focus and keep him on track and a organized. He is currently on medication, but frankly, I don't see much improvement. His medication has been changed once before, and I seriously might have to talk to his doctor again on our next visit. Sometimes my son will get home from school with notes on papers for homework, but he doesn't know what to do. I like the ideas shared here. I am going to implement some of them, and meet with teachers. I go through most of the things YOU parents with children with AD/HD go through on a daily basis. I KNOW its difficult most times. As of for me, I've found that most teacher's don't understand it, if you don't speak up for your child. Please think that this may impact their education and the right to have a quality education. BE YOUR CHILDS ADVOCATE! and DON'T GIVE UP! If you wish to contribute to my blog and help other parents, you can find it at http://myfamilyandadhd.bloggspot.com

  6. Hi! I am a mom of 3 boys-one with ADD and one with ADHD. When my oldest started middle school, we color coded all of his school supplies. We put colored book covers on his school text books and chose the same color for composition books and binders. Example: His science book had a RED book cover, his comp book for science was red and his binder was red. When he went to his locker, all he had to think about was the color he needed instead of rambling through everything; seeing something that distracted him and sent his thoughts in a different direction. It worked so well that he has carried this over to high school and does this on his own.

  7. My son has been in the public school system since he was two and diagnosed with ADHD and Sensory Integration Dysfunction. He was tested for gifted in 2nd grade and scored in the 93rd to 99th percentile in everything except ELA and in that he was 86th. In our small parish, if you do not score more than 90th percentile in ALL four areas, you cannot enter the gifted program. It was ridculous and I told them so. As a fourth grader, he has entered his brother's parochial school and everyday we have received a call from the school. Today it was that he had bit someone who had taken away his project (the teasing in this school is horrible (we knew that would happen, but better now to make this change than when he is high school) whereas at the public school he was the top of the class). Every day is a struggle and it irritates me to no end that people who have not experienced the trials of raising an ADHD child feel like they can chime in on what we are doing wrong. Thank goodness the educators and therapists ALL think we are doing the best that can be done. Thank you ALL for your encouragement and advice. We do the homework thing at the bar in our kitchen - it is set up with ONLY my boys homework stuff but we have stackable trays for their work. I like the idea of a filing cabinet, but there is no room. We also have an ADD (the lazy space cadet) boy, who is 14 months older. Imagine how crazy we look to the outside world! We know they are special because God doesn't make any junk!

  8. Hello Paula,
    Don't give up! I'm not sure where you are located, but there is a non-med therapy that I have found very effective for students such as your 10th grader. Its called Neurofeedback or EEG Biofeedback. It's painless and fun. To find a therapist near you go to www.eeginfo.com. Also while you are on that site, click on the video about ADHD. Neurofeedback is cutting edge technology!

  9. Great idea's! I love the staging area...we kinda have one...but you have taken it to the next level which is what we need.

    We also ran into something, by fluke, with our son that has been awesome. He is fairly skinny and we wanted him to put on weight, so his doctor told us to try protein shakes. One morning we woke him way earlier than he needed to get ready for school. He had already taken his medicine and if he doesn't eat before or while he takes his medicine, he won't eat breakfast. Well knowing that he needs the protein for weight and to help his brain gear up for the day we gave him a shake and let hime rest until it was time to get ready.

    BINGO!! When he got up to get dressed and ready for school we had not a single battle, he didn't need the million reminders throughout the morning to get everything done to get ready and he wasn't moody. Since we discovered that at the end of the school year we have used it throughout the summer at home when we had full days ahead and at overnight camp. He has had the best summer ever and we are able to start the days off on a good note and not a frustrated note. We did still do our traditional breakfasts and the occasional cereal breakfasts too, when we didn't have some where to be first thing in the morning. My son now asks for the shakes and really enjoys them.

    Hope this will help some parents who have rough mornings! Good Luck

  10. School starts for us on Tuesday, so this is the perfect topic for us this week. I look forward to implementing some of the strategies you noted. The biggest thing that I think is going to help my son though is that this year he doesn't have a new teacher. In his school they have combo classes with 3year olds - K, 1st-3rd, etc. His first year in his 3yo class was rough, but after a year and the teacher knew him and what worked and what didn't, it was much better. I felt like last year (1st grade) was a repeat of that because it was really rough getting used to a new classroom and teacher. By the end of the year they had things figured out so luckily they can start implementing all that right away this year (instead of having to reinvent the wheel every year!). As for home, we are still struggling to get a good routine here because my husband and I are not very consistent routine type people so we really have a hard time with that. Hopefully your suggestions will help us all though - thanks!

  11. For the past three years my 15 year old son struggled with organization on a daily basis. He never wrote down assignments and constantly missed the details of assignments. Something was always missing. His school, although supportive, was not well versed in supporting kids with AD/HD. We finally found an educational consultant who taught him a new organizational system. It is easy straighforward and takes very little time to follow. Everything is kept in one place. What I found liberating about having her meet with him, was that I was not trying to convince him to try something new. The consultant explained she had worked with many kids before him and he was willing to try her system. The simplicity of her system has given him confidence and he is indeed more motivated to be organized.

    I know it can be hard to find a consultant/expert and it can be costly. However, this is the best money we ever spent in supporting our son and reducing the daily chaos and tension. He takes more care with his work as a result and is much happier.

  12. Dear Nadine, thank you for this blog! My two girls and I all were diagnosed late (me at 47) with the non-hyper ADHD. It helps to share ideas with others.

    To anonymous with a 4th grader in parochial school: it doesn't sound like this school is a fit for your son-- if they are calling you daily and he is acting out. If it's at all possible to find an environment where he is happier, I highly recommend it. If you can get the parochial school to change their approach, great.

    You mentioned high school but I don't recommend preparing him now for what's ahead-- what's ahead may not be the right fit for him. He has gifts and you want him in environments where he can develop them -- doesn't have to be a special gifted program.

    I wish you and your son the very best!!

  13. My son (who is a true blessing from GOD)was diagnosed ADHD, predominately inattentive variety almost 2 years ago. We have tried metadate CD 10 mg and now we are trying adderall XR 5 mg (really 2.5 because the doctor wants me to give him 1/2 the dose to start). I just got another call from the school because he was refusing to do his work and they sent him to the office. Once he is in the office he tends to lose control, because I think he feels like everything is out of his control at that point. The school basically wants to send him to a special ed school, because they are saying that they can not meet his educational needs. He was finally given an IEP at the end (2 days before school got out)of last year. I don't think the IEP has been given much of chance considering we are only in the 3rd week of school & I feel like they just want to get rid of him. He is in group therapy and taking Tae Kwon Do (I have been told it helps with discipline). I'm not sure what more I can do for him at this point, because he has these "melt downs" for lack of a better word, at school when I'm not there to help. I've considered home schooling, but I'm afraid I would be getting in over my head with that. Any adive?

  14. My son has ADHD and is a senior in high school. My concern is about college. He went away this summer for three weeks and it was a disaster. We thought the camp had counselors who would be helping, but they did little. He was homesick and kept getting yelled at for losing things and being late. I worry about my child being able to handle the living skills and study skills necessary, yet I think he needs to make steps toward being independent. His grades are good, although he works hard and needs to be reminded of deadlines. I wish there were schools that had living arrangements for kids who are not quite ready to be on their own.

  15. So grateful to have found this blog. Definitely going to go find Blake's book. My adhd blessing is our son, he's 13 and in the 7th grade. He has been diagnosed since 1st grade. We recently moved out of state and holy cow, the anxiety monster has come out to play! We've never needed a 504(at his old school in FL they actually told me when I inquired that they try to "wean" the kids off them at this point, what?!) So now we are in NY and the guidance counselor is really supporting us with getting him one. We've always had support from his teachers and counselors without needing a 504 but I knew that the time was coming. we've put it in motion and not a second too soon. He now has a teacher that is either unwilling or unable to help him. To be fair, I really don't know what her knowledge is of adhd and what his needs are, but when he has tried to communicate them to her(thankfully he is very good at asking for help) she has not been very compliant. We are trying to work this out. New state, new doctors, new procedures, new school, new guidance counselor, whew! I am, however,hopeful. He may have an anxiety disorder as well. We are working with his doctors. I don't know if the anxiety is because of the adhd, or in addtion to. That is what we are trying to find out. Will be looking for a therapist in addition to neuro. the neuro has a psychiatric np on board to speak with but even though I am not anti meds, I am pro coping skills. I am concerned about anti anxiety meds and the depression that I am hearing they bring about. They had put him on an anti depressant in the begining, when he was in 1st grade and he seemed to be a bit ocd but it made him so sad we took him off and it was fine. That's the thing with adhd,it's forever changing.It seems as he gets older, there are always adjustments. He was always anxious, just not debilitatingly. I had thought it was his med(focalin xr) and when we reduced his dosage or took him off for a day it would be better, but now I know its more than that. How do we ever really know. It may just be time for a med change. we may try strattera. We'll see. I hear that for some kids it works alone or with some help of a small amount of stimulant. On with the crusade......

  16. To anonymous sept blogger with "True Blessing from God" inattentive ADD son. Here are some thing that have helped with my 8 yo severely inattentive son. 1st- meds can induce rages, it may be better off to wean him off. 2nd Low blood sugar can also induce bad temper, moodiness, less ability to concentrate- try a really good higher protein diet- whole grains; heavy heavy breakfast to last him thru the morning- e.g. scrambled eggs, oatmeal, hot chocolate made with whole milk, peanut butter and low sugar or juice sweetened jam on whole grain bread. This type of diet makes a huge difference with my son. Exercise is the 3rd thing I'd recommend, before he leaves for school in the morning, to stimulate those sleepy brain cells- rebounding (urban rebounder) or trampoline works best for my son- keeps him attentive for the next 2 hours or so.
    As far as school is concerned- finding a school more willing to set up incentive programs with you- if he manages to partcipate, keep focused for so many classes /day he earns that special book from the library, to rent that great movie from blockbuster etc. Check out the book called "ADHD book of lists" for incentive programs, then talk to your school about whether they would help you to create one for him with his teachers.
    Good luck. I know it can be hard and frustrating and so gut-wrenchingly sad to see your kid affected by a bad school fit. a change to a smaller school which has a better attitude about assisting with the adhd may be much better or his self confidence too.