I started an "a mom's view of ADHD" fan page on Facebook recently. Anyone a member of Facebook (who isn't these days?) can access a discussion forum there to share ideas and experiences with each other. I have wanted to have a discussion tool for myself and my readers for a long time now. In just over two weeks, there are 38 fans and we have three discussions going. I am thrilled. It is so calming to know there are so many others on a parallel journey.
Within the discussions and comments on the wall from other parents of ADHD, I am seeing a real trend. I am seeing this same issue surface again and again in other ADHD parenting forums I follow as well. ADHD kids are being punished at school for non-compliance due to ADHD symptoms out of their control.
PUNISHMENTS AND CONSEQUENCES DO NOT ALTER OUR CHILDREN'S NEUROLOGICAL DIFFERENCE SO THAT THEY CAN COMPLY! If punishments and consequences worked, it would just be parenting skills and our children's listening skills and they'd be cured and there wouldn't be an ADHD. What an exciting thought but completely and utterly fictitious.
Believe me, we tried punishment with Luke. At one point, my son had zero toys in his room. (This was due to a soiling issue we were having. At the time, we had no idea it was more than stubbornness and laziness with toileting. We now know it's called Encopresis and is related to his ADHD since it's no longer a problem since starting ADHD medication. That's another subject altogether though and one I've never touched on here because I didn't want a permanent and very public record of it for Luke when he's older.) He lost all his toys from non-compliance on this issue when he was about 5 years old. He had to earn them each back but he couldn't. It didn't work. He still couldn't control the offending behavior despite loosing all his toys and desperately wanting to earn them back. At that point I knew we were up against something beyond his control. And when I had that epiphone, he got all his toys back immediately.
I still carry an enormous amount of guilt for all the loss of toys and privileges we prescribed for behaviors completely out of his control. I feel overwhelmingly sad every time I think about this particular incident in our family history. We even instilled shame and embarrassment to try to help him change the behavior. We made him feel really awful. We thought we were helping him having no idea he has this neurological difference, this ADHD.
So punishments don't change ADHD. The part of a child's brain that controls regulating impulses is weakened or not functioning in an ADHD child. This is the part of the brain that reminds a child they will get into trouble if they don't finish their math worksheet on time, raise their hand in class before talking, or take their time and improve the quality of their school work.
What is even more sad than thinking of these children being punished as purposefully non-compliant at all is to think about the typical punishment for these children in a school setting. More often that not, they are banned from participating in recess, gym class, or field trips. These activities are taken away because they are activities kids enjoy. But these activities are three of the most important parts of the school day for ADHD children. And they are activities that will actually help an ADHD child to focus on school work. Exercise boosts brain function ! It makes it easier to sustain mental focus for longer periods of time by increasing blood flow to the brain. Exercise is brain fuel.
This entire discussion on ADHD kids being punished for behaviors out of their control at school encompasses the topic I am so passionate about these days: classroom accommodations for ADHD children. When an ADHD child is really understood at school and accommodations are made to give them a level playing field and an equal opportunity for education and learning there is no need for punishment. Even better, they can feel good about themselves and feel more like their peers and enjoy some self-confidence they are robbed of when they are constantly reminded of what they can't do and being punished for it.
I am noticing that many parents are not aware of their ADHD child's rights in the classroom and certainly don't understand the process better their child's school experience. While I am certainly not an expert on this subject, I have been through the process in my state (North Carolina) and I have been able to attain accommodations for my son that have positively affected his self-esteem, his school performance, and his social acceptance. In my opinion, every child with ADHD should be treated differently in the classroom, in a discreet and POSITIVE manner.
Here are the steps to work for accommodations and services for your child (state laws are different and local boards are structured differently so this will be a general outline):