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“I’m Not OK with My Son Being Punished for His Neurological Difference”

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“I’m Not OK with My Son Being Punished for His Neurological Difference”

  • Julie Warshaw
  • October 6, 2017

Every ADHD parent has had it happen. But I thought that since we homeschool, we’d escaped it. I was wrong. Instead, we experienced what millions of ADHD kids and their parents go through every day: the sense that ADHD kids are “being bad” and need to be punished to fix them.

Our sons’ ADHD is, of course, one of the chief reasons we homeschool. They can bounce through their reading lessons and fidget-cube through social studies class. They can take breaks between subjects. They can sprawl; they can sit; they can stand; they can pick if they want to write at their lap desks or the table.

If they’re into something, they can hyperfocus for as long as they want — sometimes my five-year-old does his math program for two hours. At the same time, I can minimize distractions, as much as it’s possible with three kids roving through one room, at least one computer system blaring, and a three-year-old who wants to show us everything on his alphabet learning program. But they learn so well. They don’t have to expend brainpower to manage their behavior and their body in the same ways that schoolchildren do. It’s all they know.

[“How Homeschooling Saved My Smart, Curious Son”]

So stupid me decided to throw them into a homeschool co-op. For socialization, of course.

A homeschool co-op is a group in which homeschooled kids get together, organize into classes, and learn in a mostly traditional school-based setting. Except there are several differences. The teachers aren’t trained educators. There are no IEPs. And ADHD behavior deviates from the norm and can disrupt the flow of what the educators had in mind, which makes it “bad” behavior. And what do we do to “bad” behavior?

We punish it.

My youngest, surprisingly, did fine. He’s five, and his class  consists mostly of doing art and reading books, both of which maintain his focus and attention. He’s also more of a dreamer than a talker, so he could have been miles away through every one of those sessions and no one would have known it. He did, in fact, produce artwork, which seemed to somehow match up to class guidelines, so his classroom experience (with gentle, patient teachers) was a success.

[Free Download: The Big List of ADHD School Resources]

Then there was my oldest, who’s seven. I had warned the teachers beforehand that he has both dysgraphia and ADHD (and he’s gifted—triple-exceptional!). I outlined a series of accommodations for writing (he can’t be asked to generate text, and so on), then, almost offhandedly, said, “And he has ADHD.” I didn’t think much of how that would translate into a classroom environment, because I wasn’t thinking of this as a classroom environment, but as an extension of homeschool. Big mistake.

“Blaise was a chatterbox today,” one of the teachers told me. She is a friend, to boot, one who knows him. I pressed and pressed, because I wanted to know what was going on: Was he talking to the kid behind him? Was he talking randomly? Nope. Whatever science they were doing, Blaise was blurting out the answers to all the questions, because he knew them, without raising his hand. And we all know that not raising your hand is a cardinal sin. Apparently, he was repeatedly warned, but kept doing it. Because, duh, of his ADHD.

We brainstormed together. I recommended telling him she would call on him, say, every third or fifth time he raised his hand. Or do a sticker chart. He responds well, we’ve found, to incentives, and very badly to punishment. But the verdict came down. They would enforce class rules: one warning and, for the second infraction, he would be sent into the hallway for five minutes.

My kid was going to get banished to the hallway because he has a brain difference. He knew the rules: You have something to say, you raise your hand. But he got so excited that he knew the answer and had something to add that he couldn’t contain it, because he doesn’t have the same impulse control as other kids. So his mind skipped over “raise hand” and went right to “open mouth.” This is typical of ADHD kids. I remember getting told over and over to raise my hand when I was seven years old. My teachers dealt with it (because I was a girl, and even though I wasn’t diagnosed, you don’t send a girl out into the hallway). So my son was going to miss five minutes of class time every time he blurted out.

[Set the Record Straight: Download Your Free ADHD Awareness Month Toolkit]

I’m not OK with my son being punished for his neurological difference. October is ADHD Awareness Month. You would never, ever think it was acceptable to treat a kid with a different neurological difference this way. But ADHD behavior is so often synonymous with bad behavior. He was beginning to get teased. I bawled out a kid I actually heard doing it. I should have yanked the kid’s mom and bawled her out, too. If my sons had any other neurological difference, people would try their best to work around them, to be aware, to be helpful and kind and accommodating. Instead, my son was punished.

We left the co-op the next week. It wasn’t for us.

We’ll find our socialization somewhere else, perhaps in another co-op, and definitely in the multitude of nature playdates and board-game marathons and hiking clubs. ADHD kids need to be outside, anyway, somewhere they can twirl, leap, and run, somewhere they can bounce. Somewhere they can blurt.