What to do When the Teacher Tells You Your Child has ADHD

Here’s a very good answer by Dr. Yvonne Fournier, to the question of what to do when the teacher tells you your child has ADHD and should be medicated:

DEAR DR. FOURNIER: We were summoned to our daughter’s school, told she is ADHD and instructed to get her on the meds. My neighbor says ADHD is something that was developed so pharmaceuticals can sell more unnecessary drugs and absolve parents from having to actually parent and teachers from taking responsibility for what our daughter isn’t learning. Please tell us the truth.

ASSESSMENT: I have been answering questions about ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity) and the surrounding controversy for several years now.

The ADHD diagnosis is often communicated to parents when their children become distracted and do not complete tasks or act impulsively and disrupt the classroom.

ADD/ADHD is not a disease, but a cluster of behaviors, some of which may be acceptable in certain classroom situations and not in others. In some cases, these behaviors may continue through life and be the very strengths that lead to success, such as the “daydreamer” who becomes a heralded movie director or the “talker” who becomes a noted trial lawyer.

The diagnosis, however, should come from a developmental pediatrician. And yes, true ADD/ADHD behavior is usually treated with medication. It is more important, however, to diagnose and treat your child’s underlying learning problem, not its behavioral manifestations.

Critics will say that ADHD medication has dramatically improved millions of children’s school performances. While this may be true in some cases, the educational success for an equal number of children is short-lived unless additional learning strategies are put in place. Potential drug addiction (and other ailments) by prescription carries too high a risk without concurrent educational therapy.

No pill can teach a child the difference in reading a textbook for content and reading a novel for a book report or help a child discover his or her working capacity, which leads to personal time-management techniques. And when the child becomes an adult, no pill can teach her short- and long-term time-management skills and how to continue focusing on only one thing even if the world wants her to “multitask.” Neither can a pill teach a fifth-grader the phonics he didn’t learn in second grade.

And not every child with a learning problem has ADHD. Conversely, many children who display ADD/ADHD behaviors have learning difficulties, which often go untreated because their anxiety is masked by behaviors too easily labeled ADD/ADHD.

Under medication, some children do improve their attention enough to be able to sit still and do as they are told, but this does not ensure steady, long-term overall improvement. New stresses and challenges plus a higher level of expectations may make a child tune out or give up.

WHAT TO DO: If your child has a learning problem, don’t rush to judge that he/she has ADD/ADHD. If your child is diagnosed as such, learn to separate the pediatric from the learning problem and get treatment for the former only if absolutely needed.

Take, for example, a child who consistently forgets homework assignments. Forgetting homework assignments is fundamentally a self-management learning-strategy problem. Robotizing medications are not the solution; teaching is.

The idea of doing homework sounds so simple to adults, yet it’s a complicated process, particularly for children who have not been taught long enough to actually learn the required strategies.

Use your best parenting instincts, consult the experts when necessary and work together to devise a comprehensive treatment plan for what is, essentially, an educational difficulty. Is this truly ADD/ADHD, or an 8 a.m.-3 p.m. problem? The aim should be to help your child learn to learn long-term without the crutches provided by medicinal drugs.

3 thoughts on “What to do When the Teacher Tells You Your Child has ADHD

  1. Hola tengo un nino de 9 anos y en el grado de kindergarden lo reprobo una ves ahora esta en el segundo grado de elemental pero desde que el esta en la escuela siempre he tenido mocho problema con el aprendisaje de el. Todabia en este momento el no a podido leer como un nino de su edad se supone que ya lo haga. Tiene mucho problema para consentrarse,comfunde las letras y los numeros y cuando el ve que no puede lograr hacer su tarea porque no la entiende aunque yo le explique millones de vece se pone muy nervioso y se le bloquea la mente. Yo insisto que que el tiene que tener algun problema de aprendisaje pero hasta el dia de hoy los maestro no me han alludado a resolver el problema o aconsejarme que debo hacer y cada dia lo esfuersan a hacer trabajos escolares que a mi hasta aves me da problema resolberlos y explicarle a el. Porfavor espero y me puedan dar una solucion al problema que tiene mi hijo Cristian Feliciano de la escuela Villige Elementary. Gracias


  2. I agree with Dr. Yvonne Fournier, you do NOT want to jump to conclusions when a teacher or school suggests that your child is ADHD.

    To begin with, a school cannot actually diagnose ADHD. There are several checklists that you can do that will give you as a parent an indication if you child has ADD or ADHD. At that point you need to have your child evaluated by their pediatrician regarding the problem.

    If the pediatrician concurs, there are many alternatives for dealing with ADD/ADHD before going the medication route. After trying and exhausting all of those possibilities, I always remind parents that if their child needed glasses they would not deny them glasses. If
    they needed a hearing aid, they would not deny them one. ADD is a chemical imbalance in the brain, so if they need medication, do it, BUT be sure to monitor it to be sure that it is the right medication and dosage.

    BTW: There are actually about 5 different types of ADD:

    ADD, with hyperactivity (ADHD)
    ADD, without hyperactivity (couch potatoes)
    ADD, over focused (tend to get stuck)
    ADD, depressive (negative and irritable)
    ADD, violent, explosive (dark thoughts)

    It might be entirely different problem…

    That being said, there may be an entirely different problem going on such as either a visual or auditory processing problem where their vision perception or auditory perception system has been overloaded
    because it isn’t working as efficiently as it should. When that happens children often seem to daydream. They don’t know enough to pull themselves back to the current activity so they often get ‘nailed’ for not paying attention. To find out more about possible learning problems, go to http://www.bonnieterry.com/reports_LD.cfm for a free pre-screening tool.

    If your child does have ADD/ADHD you can actually have a 540 Plan written with services or accommodations that the school can do to help your child thrive in the classroom. I’ve listed 22 of the services on my blog as well as homework help tips for children with ADD or ADD-like behaviors, go to:
    http://www.bonnieterry.com/blog. There are a variety of articles there that you may be interested in.

    I hope this has been helpful.


  3. If your child does have ADD/ADHD you can actually have a 540 Plan written with services or accommodations that the school can do to help your child thrive in the classroom.


    Yes, in many cases you can get a 504 for your child. Not for a gifted child. I can’t begin to tell you the headaches we’ve undergone. If the child is above grade level and pulling Bs, the school says, that’s good enough.


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