Tales of Stress and ADHD: Elementary School
Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Jerome Schultz is the author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It and is an expert on stress, learning disabilities, and ADHD. In the following three scenarios, he takes you inside the brains of a parent, an elementary school student, and a teacher as they attempt to cope with ADHD- and stress-related challenges. At the end of each scenario, he offers his expert take on the situation and follows up with tangible (and at times out-of-the-box) tips that parents and teachers can apply.
Stories of Stress and ADHD
Scenario #1: The Parent
Through a parent’s eyes: Last night, we got a call from a neighbor who used to be a really good friend of the family. “I don't really know how to tell you this, Amy, but we can't have Nate over to play with Shawn any more. I told him to tell you...Did he tell you that he almost burned our house down?” I nearly drop the phone. “What!?!” I hear myself yell, feeling the defensive mom rising up in me like a squadron of fighter jets, engines flaming and ready to engage the enemy—once again. My husband reaches over and puts his hand gently on my forearm. I look at him and sigh, letting him know he’s cooled my jets. “I'll look into this and call you back, Sally,” I say to my soon-to-be-ex-friend.
Scenes like this have played themselves out many times in the 10 years since our son Nate was born. He's hyper-everything! Now here we are again, faced with the task of talking to our son about doing something silly and dangerous. We know the pattern. First, he'll vehemently deny that he did anything of the sort. When we press with evidence, he'll tell us how “it was Shawn's idea!” or how he’d “told him to stop!” As the story unravels, he'll bury himself in some “fact” he invents to save face, digging the hole deeper and deeper. This is a deed that can't be ignored, but his dad and I know how fruitless a punishment can be. We'll take away this or that, and he'll protest for a while, later paying his penance with no real regret or sense of a lesson learned. My husband says it's like that movie “Groundhog Day,” only now it's in ADD-land. Same thing day after day, just with a twist. It's taking a toll on us and his little sister, but our greatest worry is that it's starting to define him. We were watching “America's Biggest Loser” one night, and he leaned over and quietly said, “They should make a show about me with that name.”
My take on this: You can feel the frustration and sadness in this family’s story. The repeating cycle of action and negative reaction has taken its toll on this little boy, his social connections, and his reputation. His tendency to get himself into these “hot spots” has also drained a lot of the parent’s energy, making them wary and guarded. You can also hear the love and understanding this husband and wife have for each other, as they’re drawn closer by defending and protecting their son. It sounds like they're fraying around the edges, and I wonder how much more of this they can take.
My advice: This boy’s energy needs to be channeled in a safe way. Enrolling him in after-school activities (science club, rocketry class, robotics) might appeal to him and put him in an environment where trained adults can teach and reinforce safety procedures. Organizations like these can help him learn mantras like “think, then act,” which takes practice. Additionally, Cub Scouts might satisfy his need to explore while in the “protective custody” of like-minded outdoorsmen who appreciate a child’s vigor and spirit. Or how about Clown School? Here, he’d be taught how to do things that get the positive attention of others, while learning self-discipline.
A psycho-educational therapy approach that teaches him about himself would also help him navigate the social demands of everyday life. His parents would benefit from therapy, for instance a support group for parents of kids with ADHD.
This little boy needs positive role models, so instead of having him play with younger kids who won’t teach him much, or age-mates who may not know how to deal with him, why not find him a Big Brother? Perhaps even someone with ADHD who can teach life lessons.
Finally, I would ask this family if they have considered the use of stimulant medication to help this “hyper-everything” little boy gain more self-control and focus, so he's not barreling through life leaving a bad reputation, guilt, and regret in his wake. Other non-medical approaches such as yoga, mindfulness training, and biofeedback can certainly be considered, but research (and my years of clinical experience) suggest that these approaches lack the punch to help a boy with this profile. This boy needs to be in a state of mind that will allow him to learn new strategies and have the focus to use them.
For more ideas, check out these 10 helpful ADHD resources.
Continue to the next page for Scenario #2: The Student.