Recently, I was asked to give a ten minute talk on transitions in education, and their impact on students with ADHD. Specifically, I was asked to address the transition from Primary school to high school, and from school to the tertiary education system. Both are huge topics. I promised to write about it here for those who weren’t able to attend. Here’s what I said in 10 minutes:
The first thing to remember is that any transition is challenging for anybody with ADHD. For example walking into the family home after a day at the office, awake to asleep, asleep to awake and out the door by a certain time. These situations require re-focusing strategies and are full of distractions.
The bigger the transition, the bigger the challenge, the wider the gap. For example, having your first baby, changing jobs, moving house – these require re-focusing AND new skillsets. Not to mention the emotions that come into play and complicate matters considerably.
In the education arena there are challenging transitions each day – the transition from one activity to the next in the classroom – from the playground to the classroom – from one classroom and teacher to the next. Then there are the big transitions mentioned above – primary to high school, and school to uni, college or TAFE. How can you help you child to negotiate these?
- Teach about your child first and ADHD second. Do not allow ADHD to define them. And remember that everybody’s ADHD is unique, depending on their co-existing condition, personality, etc. Help you child find and focus on his or her strengths – they could take the VIA Strengths & Virtues quiz at: www.authentichappiness.org
- Help your child learn how he or she processes information, as opposed to pigeon-holing them into a particular learning style. Processing styles are situational, so what works in the classroom need not necessarily be effective at home. Try everything when you are studying – fidget – talk – sing – listen – write.
- Teach you child to Pause and Plan – Russell Barkley’s work has shown that people with ADHD have impairments in the Executive Functions of their brains. ADHD is not about not Knowing – it’s about not doing what you know you should do at that point of performance. The ability to pause will help to create better choices for them.
- Take the load off Working Memory. Make time and plans visible. Develop routines and practise them until they are automatic.
- Work the system – if fidgeting helps you, find a way to fidget discreetly in the classroom. If planning an essay stops you in your tracks, allow the essay to flow freely – and write the plan afterwards.
Moving to High School:
- Don’t expect the worst. Many students thrive
- Get the timetable early if possible. Visit the school alone with your child and rehearse. Find their classrooms, locker, the bathrooms and cafeteria. Rehearse any public transport together – and then have your child rehearse it alone.
- If necessary, get your child to wear the new uniform before school starts. Some children are very sensitive to fabrics against their skin
- Talk to the teachers & ask them to talk to you. Be a team member – not an adversary. Don’t assume they will receive any info about your child if you don’t give it to them.
- Establish homework routine immediately and only allow electronics as a reward.
Moving to Uni or TAFE
- This coincides with a Transition to adult medical services. When you are less involved with your child’s treatment, create a village of adults your child trusts.
- Help your child to negotiate the red tape that accompanies the start of the academic year and set up their student account
- Register as a student with a disability. Ensure that they are able to provide the counsellors with the best info possible – Do encourage your child to speak to lecturers and tutors.
- Take advantage of the flexible learning opportunities in the tertiary system. Lectures are often recorded, enabling students to listen to them later in a distraction-free environment.
- Expect overwhelm and do not give up when it hits.