All over social media, I see moms and dads saying how proud they are of their children. They post pictures of their children’s progress reports, and the comments by the teacher about how hard working and kind they are. Their children are getting straight A’s. They are a joy to have in class, always helpful, quiet, and not disruptive; their teachers don’t have a bad word to say about them. They are getting awards for attendance, grades, and being an outstanding student.
I see their posts and I hurt for my daughter, who is struggling in school.
Every week my daughter waits, but she doesn’t get it, because the other kids are more noticed, and sometimes they are more likeable. They fit the description of the school’s idea of a hardworking student. My daughter doesn’t get an award for trying as hard as the other children try. She has to put in twice the effort just to achieve half of what comes easy to other children. It is a struggle for her not to get distracted or to stay still in her seat. She works at it every. Single. Day. She is resilient and always makes an effort. It’s hard for her and she keeps persisting; but she doesn’t get an award for that.
My daughter has been in the school system for six years. In those six years, only one teacher during parent-teacher conferences has told me how brilliant my daughter is and how much they love her; one teacher who said how special she is; that they can’t believe how deep-thinking and intelligent she is and that they are just amazed by her. One teacher. That teacher had a son of their own with ADHD. I left that parent-teacher conference in tears.
Leading ADHD experts estimate that by age 12, children with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages than those without the condition. Every day my daughter hears that she is doing something wrong. She gets in trouble or reprimanded countless times a day, many times for things that are out of her control. Teachers tell me they will work hard to make sure my daughter is successful this year and that their goal is for her issues to improve.
What that turns out looking like every year is her being shamed or getting things taken away for not being able to focus, be calm, or finish her work. Instead of understanding her condition, they fault her for it and even go as far as to say she is choosing to do these things, as if it’s something she can control, but her success doesn’t look like their version of success.
These children do not need to be fixed or made to be like everyone else; they need to be understood. ADHD is a disability, and they do not have the ability to do some of the things that are being asked of them. I want teachers and principals to notice the students who don’t have it easy, the ones who have different strengths and don’t fit into their little box. I want these children to be noticed for how hard they work, even when it doesn’t come easy for them and the results don’t look like everyone else’s. I want them to consider different awards for the effort of the children who will never get the other awards. I want them to consider what these children know when grading and not just what their ability to complete worksheets and take tests reflects. Education should not be one size fits all.
So for all the parents of these children who are amazing and hardworking, but just different from the others: let’s not forget to tell our children how proud we are of them. Let’s not be pressured to discipline them when the school’s feedback makes them feel less than, or makes us, as their parents, feel less than.
And to our children’s teachers and principals: don’t forget about our children. Look a little bit longer, a little bit closer even when they are hard to see in the shadows that the other students cast on them. Acknowledge our children for their individual strengths and for how well they are doing with what they are able to do. That’s all I ask.