Glenn Ellis

*You may hate to admit it, but you are probably looking forward to having your children go back to school. You know that there is a lot to do before school starts, like back-to-school shopping. You also know that for your child who has ADHD, there may be more to do…

Was your child off of their ADHD medications during the summer break? If so, you may want to restart it at least a week or two before school starts to get back the routine of taking her medicine each day. This is especially important if your child is taking a drug like Strattera, which can take a two or three weeks to even begin working.

Otherwise, the start of school is not a real good time to make any big changes in your child’s treatment regimen. Your child will already be faced with new teachers and classes and perhaps a new school and new friends. It may help to give your child a few weeks to adjust to the new year before making any changes to her medication, especially if you are considering stopping her medicine altogether.

It seems that back-to-school time always sneaks up. Before you know it, the summer is over and school is starting again. Helping your child ease from the lazy days of summer to the structured days of fall is important. If your child has ADD / ADHD, transitions can sometimes be difficult. Many children experience mixed feelings about restarting school. School may create feelings of excitement, but it can also create some anxiety, especially if previous school experiences have been frustrating.

No one knows exactly what causes this behavioral disorder. A brain injury may be behind some cases, and environmental and genetic factors could be to blame as well.

In particular, family history seems to play a significant role: 25% of close relatives of those with ADHD may have it too. And for people with a family history, it’s possible genetic makeup could increase the odds of one’s getting it by as much as 50% to 80%. Take dads, as an example. At least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth have children with ADHD.

In addition to your child’s ADHD medication, other issues to think about as your child goes back to school can include:

Is your child getting enough sleep? Many children with ADHD do not sleep well, which can contribute to hyperactivity, irritability, and a decreased attention span, which many parents may think to blame as a side effect of their ADHD medication or simply on their ADHD.

Does your child need extra help, even as his ADHD medication is helping most of his/her ADHD symptoms? If so, then you might ask your pediatrician to fill out an Other Health Impaired (OHI) form from the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to get extra special education services in school or request that the school evaluate him/her under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

It’s important to set the stage for the teacher to see the child as an individual, separate from whatever previous ideas or information they have. It has often been helpful for parent and child to write individual personal letters to teachers as a way to communicate this information. Many families have found letter writing to be a wonderful process that brings the child closer to his or her teachers on a more personal level – a level that facilitates more personal connections between teacher, child and parent. The letter is a chance to present the child as an individual, not just a child with ADHD.

As a parent your letter should include a description of your child, identifying which subtype of ADHD he or she has and specifying the characteristics of that subtype that your child displays. You might also describe what treatment is being used; the people on the treatment team; the treatment itself; including information about behavior plans and medications currently in use and any that have been discontinued. Describe the strategies that you and previous teachers have found to be helpful, such as advance warnings about schedule changes or touch prompts. Also specify techniques that have not worked or even backfired. Include other personal information: your child’s likes, dislikes, hobbies, strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments.

Letters such as these enable children to educate their teachers about themselves and their ADHD, rather than waiting for the disorder to manifest itself in a negative context, and they tend to evoke an empathic response from teachers. Try to help your children identify, in his/her own words, what ADHD is, how it affects them, and what helps them to learn best in class.

This early and open communication among children, teachers and parents has several benefits:

1. It decreases the time it takes for a new teacher to work effectively with the child.
2. It presents the child as approachable, likable and easier to connect with.
3. It begins the process of open communication.
4. It provides an opportunity to empower children to deal with their ADHD. They can get an early start in advocating for themselves which will serve them well throughout their school years and beyond.

The most important aspect of preparing your child for school is to decrease anxiety and to increase your child’s sense of competence. Because most children with ADHD have struggled in school academically, behaviorally, and/or socially, approaching the first days of school can feel overwhelming for children and parents alike. For some children, easing into routines at home for sleep, meals, and after school activities (including homework) can be helpful a week or more before school starts, with the goal of helping the child prepare for these routines and avoiding battles during the early days of school. It’s important to emphasize academic strengths and favorite activities, but acknowledge anxieties, as well. Most children do not want to talk about school but will appreciate their parent’s acknowledgement of the effort that is involved.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself, and live the best life possible!

This column is for informational purposes only, and should not take the place of your medical doctor or other health professional.

Glenn Ellis lectures and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics, including health education and health promotion. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com