Saturday, August 27, 2011

Homeschooling Children with ADD/ADHD

I find that I often straddle a line.  Before I homeschooled, I was a public school teacher.  I earned my master's degree in education.  I learned a lot in my classes.  There is an old saying that teachers teach because they can't do anything else, but that simply isn't true!  It take so much skill to be a good teacher.  

When I worked in the public schools, I grew to respect and admire the knowledge and experience of the special education teachers and the teachers that worked with students with learning disabilities.  They had training beyond what I had.   I saw their demeanors and patience with their students.  Because of my experience I have doubted whether a homeschool parent could teach their child at home as well as teachers with specialized education could.  

Two weeks ago, I read a book that changed my mind.    The book was written by Melinda Boring.  It is titled Heads Up Helping.  It was published about 5 years ago.  Melinda is a homeschooled her children all the way through school--kindergarten through high school.  Before she had children, she was a speech therapist.  And she put that experience to good use being a homeschool mom.  I know from watching Eli's speech therapist, that speech therapists are wonderful observers and learners.  Ms. Boring's book begins with her story of how she discovered her son had ADHD.  In the first 20 pages of her book, I learned so many lessons.  I reflected on the things I've said and heard from other moms over the years.  I reflected on what I'd do different now walking forward having heard this story out of a desire to love the children I meet who need a little extra understanding.

In her book, Melinda addresses so many facets of teaching, living with, and loving a child with ADD, ADHD, or other learning disabilities.  She explains and addresses such issues as distractibility, fidgeting, social skills, adapting curriculum, and developing a child's strengths.  I especially enjoyed her discussions of auditory and visual distractibility.  I wish I had read such a book back when I was teaching middle school (although it wasn't written yet)!  She gives simple and constructive suggestions of how to help children cope.  Her suggestions are specific to homeschooling, but I think many of the suggestions would be very helpful for parents with children in private and public schools.  Parents can use her suggestions as spring boards to other ideas that might be feasible in a classroom.  Ms. Boring's chapter on sensory seeking and avoiding convicted my heart deeply.  My middle daughter is very tactile.  After reading this chapter, my perspective changed.  I need to realize that my daughter "sees" through her touching.  I need to train her how to "see" gently and make appropriate requests of her.  I can't expect her to go into a building full of glass for an hour and not touch anything.  But, I can expect her to go in for a half an hour with close supervision by Mommy.  She can handle that.  

There is one noticeable topic that she does not address--medication.  I have been corresponding with the author and I learned that she did this purposefully because medication is such a controversial topic.  It was not a helpful tool for her family.  From Melinda, I learned that medications can often have horrible side effects and they are not consistent.  When children grow, their bodies often don't continue to absorb the medication the same way.  I have had other conversations with friends who've expressed the same feelings to me in the past.  I have three friends with children who have been diagnosed as bipolar or extreme ADHD.  Yet, I have also heard from a few parents that medication helps.  I can see that it is a very personal decision whether or not to choose to have your child take medication.   

I mentioned earlier that this book changed my mind that a homeschool parent can teach their child at home as well as the public schools could teach him or her.  In the course of reading this book, my respect for Ms. Boring as a fellow homeschooler grew deeply.  She was a student of her children.  I also know that her experience isn't limited to one child.  The Borings have three children.  Her oldest son has severe ADHD; her middle daughter does not have any learning disabilities; and her youngest daughter has ADD.  She did research throughout their educations.  She shares in her book that she diagnosed her son by using a list of symptoms from the DSM around the time he was going to enter kindergarten.  She did have that diagnosis confirmed through testing.  As she explains in her book, the label of ADHD was helpful because it "put an end to having him mislabeled - as a defiant, disobedient, stubborn, stupid, noncompliant, and more." (p.36)  That statement was very insightful to me.  I thought back to how often students were spoken of that way in the schools I worked at.  After reading this book, I have no doubt that Ms. Boring was better able to teach her children than the schools could have.  I also now believe that homeschooling parents can teach children with learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD successfully!

There is one question you might have after reading this book.  That question is, "How did she know behaviors were due to her son's ADHD and not misbehavior?"  My husband, who did not read the book, could not get the picture of Ms. Boring and her children that I did by reading the book.  I could see by reading the book that Ms. Boring cared deeply for the hearts of her children--which I believe is the place all misbehavior begins.  In my emailing Ms. Boring, I posed this question to her and she confirmed to me that each parent must observe carefully and seek to know the hearts of her children so that he/she can discern what behavior is misbehavior and what isn't.    

So often books and resources within the homeschool world don't extend beyond this little world.  This is one book that I wish would.  Parents could be equipped with the tools in this book.  Educators would enjoy this book of anecdotal research that is easy to read.  Honestly, most of the books I review have been published by major publishers.  Once in a while I have reviewed a book by an author that has sought to use an independent publisher so that they could get their work published.  This is one of those books.  I think that is part of what impresses me so much about this book--it isn't one that has been fine tuned by a highly paid editor and given a glamorous cover.  It's real and honest.  Ms. Boring is down to earth and easy to like in her writing.  She's honest with her readers.  

I can't give this book a rating that will do it justice.  On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, I'd give it 5+.  There's room for improvement (mostly chapters that could be added), but as it stands this book is a treasure.  If you know a Christian parent of a child who has learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD, please pass this recommendation on. There is a burden on my heart that the parents who need to hear this message would.  

If you have a child who has ADD/ADHD or a learning disability, you may find Melinda's website very helpful.  
Heads Up Now   On the website, you'll find many of the resources that worked for her children and resources that she has gathered, such as her fidget bundle.  Her book is also available via Amazon or her website.

Lastly, in case you were wondering, how are her children doing now?  Did they all graduate from high school?  Yes, they did and it sounds like they are doing well.

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of this book from the author in e-book form for review.  I read the first 20 pages online and then printed out all 172 pages on my printer so that I could read it.  

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