My mother is assembling a post about homeschooling the severely ADHD child, so I quickly typed up a list of ideas and resources that I have encountered in my own homeschooling journey and sent it off to her. We both agreed that I should write my own post and that she would link to it. We are raising our children over 30 years apart, and my children have different issues than my brother did (does). Because we in our family have a wider representation of “spectrum ticks”/sensory integration issues, I have a bit of a different take on home education with this genre of special needs. So here is my very quickly assembled list of ideas…a rather random stream of consciousness, and I do apologize for the lack of organization!
Make your child’s room is as comfortable, neat, and cheerful as possible. My boys have a set of bunkbeds, a dresser, and a small rocking chair in their room, and some clothes hanging in the closet. There is little else in the room. I have tried to provide them with soft pillows and sheets and cozy blankets, and the room is colorful and cheery without an overwhelming amount of pattern or loud colors. Messes overwhelm, frustrate and discourage. An organized and tidy space is a great comfort to any child, but especially one who struggles with these issues.
Clothing should be as soft and comfortable as possible. Tagless t-shirts are a great help, and I have had to buy jeans and pants that have a better fit to them (slims for my slender children, for example). Too tight, too short, too baggy…all these are bothersome and can cause the child to be uncomfortable and become upset or agitated. Take your child shopping with you, even to yard sales and thrift stores, and involve them in choosing their wardrobe.
School supplies, toys and activities should be organized and clearly labeled if your child is old enough to have free access to them. A student binder with clearly labeled dividers and pockets, as well as a well-prepared weekly assignment sheet are helpful, as are various checklists inside pocket protectors that can be checked off throughout the day with a dry erase marker. Look into a system of workboxes…this “sequential” system works so well with an ADHD child.
Don’t underestimate the effect that a beautiful, comfortable home environment has on your child. And by that I don’t mean magazine perfect…I mean intentionally surrounding yourself with loveliness and beauty, music and flowers, art and literature. Such a pleasant and nurturing atmosphere has a profound impact on our children.
2. Meals, Snacks and Nutrition
All children benefit from regular, healthful meals and snacks, but you may find that your child is particularly sensitive to poor or inadequate nutrition. My children are much less fussy and pay better attention during lessons when we make a concerted effort to eat well and at roughly the same times each day.
Your child may also benefit from vitamins and supplements that enhance brain function or from enzymes that help them process certain foods. Sorting through all the research on this topic can be arduous and overwhelming, so take it a little bit at a time, keeping a file or notebook on findings that may be helpful for your child.
All children benefit from plenty of clean water, fresh air and sunshine. Make sure your child has an abundance of all three.
3. An Active Lifestyle for Active Children
This is where yard sales and consignment shops can especially come in handy. Soccer balls, frisbees, roller blades, a basketball hoop, baseball bat/ball/glove, a trampoline, swingset, etc…all these can provide your active child with hours of productive play and practice. Not only is the exercise beneficial, but many of these activities improve agility and hand/eye coordination, and can also provide an opportunity for siblings to play pleasantly together.
4. “Real” Toys
Now I’m not saying that my kids don’t own any plastic or battery operated toys. However, I am very intentional and specific when I give gift suggestion to family and friends or when I myself am shopping for a child’s birthday or Christmas. Learning toys, art supplies, dress up clothes and “pretend” toys such as play kitchen food and dishes or a doctor’s kit, blocks, well-made cars and trucks, baby dolls, a sturdy dollhouse with furniture and a family of little people, playmobil sets, magnadoodles…all these and more have found a home in our playroom. As much as possible, we select high quality and beautifully made toys that will last.
Buildings sets and educational toys such as electronic sets and science kits are also wonderful for the active and curious child. We prefer smaller sets that make something specific, such as a lego truck or a megablocks car. Our son gets very frustrated and discouraged with large sets that take hours to finish. Each set is stored separately and labeled clearly, often just in a ziploc freezer bag.
5. Busy Work for Busy Fingers
Though I would recommend choosing a curriculum that utilizes a whole book, literature-based approach, there is a place for workbooks and extra practice booklets, such as logic or math puzzles. Also helpful to occupy your child would be word searches and maze books, paper airplane “how-to” books, craft and activity books, Usborne activity card packs, and instructional art and drawing books. Keep supplies for each book accessible and clearly labeled.
6. Making Connections
Much has been written about brain function and the part it plays in sensory integration issues. I am not an expert, and my research in this area is very incomplete. However, I do know that such things as playing a musical instrument, learning to write in cursive and learning a foreign language can help make connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
There is also much research out there about potential brain damage from too much time in front of screens, especially television and video games. We have slowly built up a home DVD library of quality family-friendly and educational videos, and we don’t do any video games at all. We do, however, use quite a few different educational software programs for the computer.
One of the best recommendations I can make is to invest in an mp3 player for each of your children (age appropriate, of course…I would say maybe at 6 or 7, depending on the child). We load ours up with learning songs, math facts set to classical music, Lyrical Life Science, audio books, classical music, Scripture memory songs, hymns and worship songs, the Westminster Shorter Catechism set to music, Wee Sing songs, Spanish songs, music instruction CD’s, educational podcasts, and the Listener’s Bible. They love to take them in the car, to bed, to rest time…and we love knowing that they are learning and growing in their faith as they listen.
7. Schedule and Routine
Make a family schedule and post it where your children can see it. Yes, it’s just a framework, and no, you probably won’t stick to it 100%, but it provides a rhythm to your days. A weekly menu of meals and snacks is also helpful and can diffuse a lot of the “what’s for dinner, mom?” questions. When children know what comes next and what to expect, it’s a great comfort to them.
8. Love and Affirmation
Give lots of hugs and kisses, words of encouragement, praise and affirmation. Any child responds to these, but a child who is acting out in anger or is holding on to an illogical idea and refuses to give way may be able to be drawn out with affection and a long chat. Take the child aside, apart from siblings, and just spend some time together. Ask questions such as: are you tired? hungry? would you like a hot shower? do you need to talk? can you tell me why you chose to do that? …….often times there is an explanation for irrational or destructive behavior, and though the child needs to be made to see that what was done was wrong, there is often a surprisingly reasonable explanation behind the action or attitude. Avoid threatening or accusatory language such as “what’s wrong with you?” or “why do you always…??”. And when such words do slip out, after you have calmed down…apologize and ask for forgiveness.
You could spend just about all day, every day pouring over books and articles and blogs about these issues. You will find a thousand different “whys” and “hows”, instructions and guidelines, education plans and curricula. There are some very hot topics as well…medication or not, professional therapy or not, homeschool or public school, nutrition and supplementation, etc.
I think reading and research are good things. I am all for gathering knowledge and educating ourselves about our child’s needs. But before you go pursuing a degree in Child Development and Sensory Integration, just take a deep breath. Stop and pray about what direction God would have you to take with your children. They need your love, they need a nurturing environment, and they need the stability of your presence with them each day. To know you are there and that you are on their side…cheering them on, encouraging them along the way. This comes first, before charts and checklists and clearly labeled bins. God made this child, and God placed him or her in your arms and in your home. He is at work for your good and his glory. Do not fear. Do not doubt.
I don’t really want to get into to a full discourse on my family’s usage of the Feingold Diet here…I tend to get discouraged when such a major personal decision comes under scrutiny from others. Suffice it to say that we have been on the diet for nearly six years and are still on it, though we have introduced a few foods in the last year to try to lessen the severity of reactions from accidental exposure and environmental contaminants that are outside of our control. I will give a link to the website here because I recommend the program very highly for anyone who is dealing with an aggresive or violent child and does not wish to medicate them. There have been many, many benefits to having one or all of our children on the diet over the years, but the primary reason has always been and will continue to be the safety of our son and those he comes into contact with.
10. Community and Support
Get connected. Find other moms going through the same thing and keep in touch. In this age of email and facebook and texting, one no longer needs to go out and find a local support group that meets once a month in a musty church basesment. You can find an online group, or start one yourself for that matter. I would, however, recommend a Christ-centered group of like-minded moms, because taking advice from the world on how to raise our children can be tremendously risky. Know your needs, too…if you need real arms to hug you and real eyes to look into…real heads to nod as you share your story and real hands to hold, then by all means seek out a local support group!
If you are a mother with a child with “letters attached to their name” (ADHD, OCD, Autism, Tourette’s, Asperger’s, etc.), and especially if you have made the decision to educate that child at home, please don’t overlook your need for support and encouragement. So many are out there, walking this same difficult road, and without a shoulder to cry on and a springboard to bounce ideas off of, I fear you will wear out and lose heart. And to do so would be to squander the gift that has been so gloriously entrusted to you under the guise of “a problem child.” Learn to see with new eyes. Face the difficulties head on, prayerfully and humbly, begging your Maker for patience and guidance and love for these precious ones, and take one little step forward at a time.