Homeschooling is a challenge all by itself, but homeschooling a neuro-divergent child adds a different layer of challenges altogether. Keep reading for a wealth of practical guidance from a veteran homeschool mom of twenty years and eight children sharing her experience and tips for homeschooling a child with ADHD.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my good friend Heidi who agreed to be interviewed for this article. Heidi has ADHD herself, and has homeschooled two children with ADHD. One of those children she successfully graduated, and the other is in high school now. Including her twenty years of homeschooling eight children, her veteran homeschooling mom credentials are solid!
After our conversation was over, I told her that I wish I had taken a recording of what she said. I took a solid four pages of notes and having a child with dyslexia only, I still felt like so much of what she said resonated with my experience. So take it from me, whatever learning challenge you are going through, there is something in this article for you.
All content to follow came from this conversation with Heidi.
To Be Diagnosed or Not to be Diagnosed, That Is the Question
Formal diagnosis of neuro-divergence is often frowned upon, especially in homeschool community. No one wants to medicate their child, but there comes a point where the parent has to decide if medication will be worth it if it makes that child’s quality of life better, gives him or her the ability to be independent, and overall helps to build that child’s confidence level.
In Heidi’s experience, one of her children with ADHD didn’t start showing signs of ADHD until about third or fourth grade. She tried everything from diet change to herbal remedies to address the symptoms, but diagnosis and medication was key in addressing the issues they were dealing with in their home and homeschool. She acknowledges that this might not be the case for every family, but it is something that those families who do not find an easy foothold must consider at some point. Just try not to let a fear of modern medicine keep you from doing what is best for your child’s wellbeing.
Getting a Diagnosis for a Child with ADHD
There are a couple of ways to get a diagnosis for your child. You can check with your local public school system, as public schools often offer these services. Heidi chose to go through a private Psychologist for one child and a Neuropsychologist for the other. This might be covered by your insurance, so it is worth checking into.
Heidi shared with me that many children who are diagnosed with ADHD also have some level of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). These issues often overlap. Many people do not like getting SPD therapy for their children because it just looks like “play time.” A parent might think that they can replicate the same environment at home. However, it is a misnomer that what a therapist does in these types of specialized therapies are just play. From her personal experience, consistent work through these therapy sessions did her children a world of good and she highly recommends that others do them too.
The best thing you can do for your child is to educate yourself in every way you can concerning ADHD and any other challenges your child might be dealing with. Heidi highly recommends Russell Barkley and Dr. Daniel Amen for self-education as you aim to help your child.
It Is All About Executive Function Processing Skills
One of the most interesting parts of my conversation with Heidi was when she started talking like the expert she is about training children in executive function processing skills. In her words, “All moms of children with ADHD function as their child’s frontal lobe. We remind them they need to shower or eat lunch, basic life skills. Moms of children with ADHD must train their children in executive function processing, because we cannot be their frontal lobe forever.”
How did Heidi teach her kids better executive function skills? She figured out what method worked for her kids by trying all the methods she could think of. She shared that children with ADHD learn best by focusing on sequential steps for accomplishing tasks. As a parent, you will need to build strategies that work for them. Consider putting sticky notes up on the mirror [or using your Homeschool Planet Online Planner to guide your child through his daily tasks].
Giving your child strategies to accomplish life skills on his own will train your child into independence from you being his “frontal lobe.” This may take trying multiple strategies over his lifetime to find which one your child takes to the best, but it will be worth it. Training your child in executive function processing skills will help your child succeed later in life when he needs to take care of himself and his family.
Sage Advice for Moms Homeschooling a Child with ADHD
Our vision as homeschooling parents is often shaped by public school. Heidi said she heard someone once say that public school is designed to keep thirty kids busy in a chair for eight hours every day. Homeschooling on the other hand is very different.
We have all the flexibility in the world as homeschoolers, and for a parent of a a child that is not neuro-typical, you will need to be utterly flexible in your approach to homeschooling. More than likely, you will need to switch your curriculum many times to find the right fit for your child. You may need to allow your child to talk to text for writing his papers, take sensory breaks to get his mind working again, or offer cheat sheets to help your child succeed in core subjects.
One of the most difficult hurdles for parents of children with ADHD, is the mental exercise it takes to embrace your child for exactly who he or she is. Look for how your child shines, and stop focusing on how he doesn’t measure up. It is OKAY if your child does not learn at the same rate as other children his age or develops emotionally later than his peers. Many children with ADHD are brilliant and creative in their own way and excel in those things in which they take interest. They may not succeed according to typical school standards, but they thrive and shine in other very important areas.
Heidi expressed multiple times during our conversation that parents of children with ADHD need to find more things to praise in their child. Your child is more than likely harder on himself than anyone else. There is no reason to pile onto the guilt and frustration that already exists. It is perfectly OKAY if your child “grabs it” later than what is typical. Learn to celebrate the small steps and you will see your child’s confidence blossom.
Your child may not be neurotypical, but that doesn’t make him or her any less special. Consider the possibility that a diagnosis and medication may help your child in the long run. Give therapies a real consistent shot. Be flexible and relaxed in how you educate your child with ADHD at home, and most of all embrace your child for who he or she is. Learn to celebrate all the small wins as you equip your child in executive functioning skills for lifelong success.
I hope you have enjoyed the sage wisdom that Heidi had to share from her experience as someone with ADHD and a homeschool mom to two children of her eight diagnosed with ADHD.