by Pamela Roller

My son Garrett’s first days of third grade were spent with tears, frustration and feelings of failure. And that was just me. My husband didn’t know what to do, and Garrett already hated school.

I had been warned that since the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests would be given at the end of the school year, the learning pace for third grade was faster and the workload heavier than that of first and second grades.

We were ready to provide the necessary support for Garrett’s success, but we weren’t prepared for the onslaught of disorganized papers, notes home regarding inattention and off-task behavior, and half-completed classwork. Garrett came home those first days with a look of confused resignation, his disheveled binder exploding with unfinished worksheets and nightly homework.

I am a teacher and fully understand the need for schools to keep up with the government’s “No Child Left Behind” act, but the parent in me railed against the third grade curriculum. What did they expect from an eight-year-old boy who’d never had to deal with a binder before now? What was up with all this work? Wasn’t someone helping him at school? He’d had a little trouble paying attention in kindergarten and first and second grades, but his teachers had claimed he was “fine.”

Not his third grade teacher. Nothing was good enough. The notes home became a daily occurrence.

Time for a conference.

I learned that Garrett had been given help, but his lack of focus made it difficult for him to pay attention. Give it time, I told her. He needs to get used to the routine. But he was the only one in the class still not used to the routine, the teacher replied. He seemed confused, lost, disorganized. Couldn’t keep his attention on the task at hand. Oh well, I laughed, I was the same way as a child. He was just like me.

The teacher didn’t laugh back. She presented me his reading and math placement tests. The scores showed Garrett reading at a beginning first grade level. Math results? Second grade level. The laughter died in my throat.

Now the teacher in me rose to the surface. I knew that if Garrett didn’t catch up to his grade level this year, he’d be even further behind in the fourth grade. Like a stack of dominoes, he’d be bowled over by the increasing responsibilities of higher grades and never able to catch up. Worst of all, he’d have that “failure label” attached to him. I’ve seen it for myself. I have tenth grade students reading on a third grade level. The odds against success go down with each grade, and some students lose all interest in school because they can’t dig themselves out of the failure hole.

One week later, my husband and I had Garrett tested for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to see if that might have anything to do with his lack of focus. It sure did. He was practically a poster child for the disorder. Garrett, who all this time had thought himself a failure because he couldn’t keep up with the “smart” kids, was told by the doctor that he’d always had a smart brain; only now, he’d have some special medicine to help his brain show how smart it was.

In the fall of 2006, Garrett began taking fifteen milligrams of Focalin per day (Focalin is an ADHD medication that doesn’t build up in the body; it lasts twelve to fourteen hours on a time release system, and then it leaves the body.). The calm and focus he portrayed was phenomenal. Over the school year, he not only finished his classwork each day, he also got much of his homework done during the wait for the school bus in the afternoons. His grades went up. He made more friends and knew exactly what was going on around him. He was one happy kid.

The spring third grade reading and math benchmark tests revealed Garrett’s school success. Now he read on a fourth grade level, and performed math on a fifth grade level. Wow.

SOL test time came around in May, 2007. When I opened the scores envelope a month later, I cried.
Social Studies: Passed.
Reading: Passed Advanced.
Math: Passed Advanced.
Science: Passed Advanced.

I firmly believe medication for ADHD helped Garrett have a calm, focused, successful school year. I’ve heard the talk about too many kids getting diagnosed with the disorder who don’t actually have ADHD, but for my child, it was a direct hit.

Now, I want to hear comments from you. Do you have a child with ADHD? How do you cope? What do you believe about ADHD medication? Any other comments?

All the best to you,
© Pamela Roller