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Strategies for kids with ADHD can benefit classmates

Township, Michigan, (Amy Leang/Detroit Free Press/MCT)MCT
November 22, 2006

Your child's first report card of the year will arrive soon. Interim marks already may have told you trouble is brewing.
Kevin Roberts knows the signs. As a coach for children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Roberts, a former teacher who has ADHD, devises strategies to address common school problems.
Though typical of children with ADHD, these problems can occur in any child.

We asked three experts for help:

Roberts, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., ADHD coach

Terry Matlen, a licensed clinical social worker with ADHD

Bob Sornson, founder of the Early Learning Foundation in Brighton, Mich.

We also got ideas from several of Roberts' students. They are aimed, in particular, at children in middle and high school, when homework increases and problems develop that may not have been obvious before.

Here are common problems associated with ADHD in children and ideas for addressing them.


Issues: Forgets or misplaces schoolwork.

Kevin Roberts: Keep a planner the student picks out. Use folders in different colors for each subject. Put homework on one side, completed work on the other. Use Post-it Notes — even if it's on your car's dashboard — where the child will see them and be reminded to bring homework home and do it. If you pick up your child from school, ask before leaving the premises: Do you have all your books and planner with you?

Terry Matlen: Keep school supplies handy at home on open shelves or easy-to-find places. Out of sight means out of mind to a child with ADHD, she says. Ask the teacher to post all assignments on the blackboard because some children need more reinforcement than a verbal reminder.
Julie Shettler, 17, a senior at Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has worked with Roberts since she was 6. She hates using a planner, so she writes homework reminders on her hand.

Bored, distracted

Issues: Under achievement, low performance.

Roberts: Do "sprint studying," by learning in 20-30 minute blocks, then taking a 10-to-20 minute break. Timers help students know when to take a break. Relax, exercise or meditate during breaks. Find books on tape for students bored with reading classics.

Matlen: Ask children when they prefer to study. Some ADHD medicines wear off at dinnertime and that may not be the best time to study. Offer high-protein snacks when the child studies after school. Junk foods cause sluggishness, she says.

Bob Sornson: Pick one goal at a time. "It's awfully easy to think of 17 things you want to be changed, and to aim poorly and accomplish little."


Issues: Crams for tests, dawdles or is late for school.

Roberts: Review daily for a week before a test. Find comfortable places to study, away from distractions, unless a student insists he can't study without background noise or music. Reward performance.

Matlen: For younger children, use a big calendar or a white board in a high-traffic area with reminders.

Sornson: "Procrastination is an opportunity for learning to happen." Hire a baby-sitter for a day that a child refuses to get up or move, and prohibit all video entertainment. At the end of the day, make the child pay for the sitter, since he or she was the cause of the expense. For children with no allowance money, make them pay the sitter in toys."
Also, he says, set regular learning times when a child must read, write or think, regardless of whether they have homework or a test. "If they say they have no homework, say, 'That's great. That gives you time to read or write.'"
Daniel Zerin, 17, a senior at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills, who has been coached by Roberts: Pump yourself up for a test with something that relaxes you, like playing the guitar, a strategy he uses. Exercise before a test to get your brain working, he says.


Issues: Sloppy or rushed work; turns in assignments without putting name on it.

Roberts: Identify where a student goes wrong and develop goals to address the issue.

Matlen: "Most schools have resource rooms with staff to help review work. Develop a close relationship with them or your child's teachers." Occupational therapists may be available through schools or on referral for precise issues such as sloppy handwriting, she says.

Sornson: Review your child's assignments and completed work. If work is sloppy or incomplete, tell her she will be finished when the work is done neatly. Or volunteer your help but tell him he will owe you time doing chores for the time you lost helping him.

Low self-esteem

Issues: Refuses to admit he or she has a problem; refuses coaching or help.

Roberts: Children with AD HD often feel "the world is a big giant finger pointing at us.
"For every negative thing I notice you have to notice six positive things."

Sornson: "Don't offer general praise, such as 'You're a great kid.' Give specific praise" such as "You ran hard at the soccer game," or "You certainly were patient with your sister." Also, give a child some difficult tasks so she understands that life entails challenges and hard work.


Issues: Argumentative; refuses to try new approaches. Insists he can handle the problem alone.

"These kids have tried a lot of things that haven't worked," Roberts says. "Stubbornness is a protective mechanism to protect you from failure."

Roberts: "Start with one class. The wall of stubbornness will come crashing down slowly with small successes. Celebrate the successes. Don't focus on the negative."

Matlen: Meet with teachers to devise a plan; hire an ADHD coach or tutor.
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