Peg Dawson, Ed.DPeg Dawson is a psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders in Portsmouth, NH and a member of Smart Kids’ Professional Advisory Board. Dawson is the co-author with Richard Guare, Ph.D of several books on this topic, including Executive Skills in Children and Adolescence, Smart but Scattered, and The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success.
You’re smart to be concerned. The reality is that today more children are at risk for school failure due to attention problems than they were a generation ago. Today’s children with attention issues face a far more challenging academic environment. The skills we expect them to master and the work we expect them to perform are more complex than in the past. Homework is no longer a page of division problems or a spelling worksheet. Kids now are asked to carry out complicated projects with multiple steps and scoring rubrics that resemble procedures from a NASA engineer’s manual.
In addition, youngsters today are faced with more competing distractions than past generations of children. They have access to several video game systems, 100-plus cable television stations, and an Internet where they can visit countless websites or chat with friends anywhere in the world. And that’s assuming they’re not involved in organized sports or other extracurricular activities, as so many are.
Having an attention disorder means that it’s difficult to set aside the fun activities to focus on what feels like drudgery. And in recent years, the number of fun activities has increased exponentially while schoolwork has not evolved in a way that competes with all the more engaging alternatives.
What You Can Do
As a result, the world is not only more challenging for kids with ADHD—it’s also more challenging for their parents. Not only do you have to figure out how to get your son to sustain attention long enough to finish what needs to get done, but you also need to help develop more complex survival skills, such as time management, planning/prioritization, organization, and goal directed persistence (executive skills), that will enable your son to succeed in school and beyond.
It’s not a given that students with ADHD will struggle as school gets harder, but for all the reasons mentioned above it’s crucial that you stay involved. Using the resources available at Smart Kids and elsewhere, you can take concrete steps to ensure that your son’s education does not suffer because of his diagnosis.